Hill F-35 Night time flights

A pilot from the 388th Fighter Wing’s 421st Fighter Squadron prepares to launch an F-35A Lightning II during night flying operations at Hill Air Force Base on March 26, 2019.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The Air Force’s only fully combat capable F-35 wing has undergone a total reorganization — a move military officials say will streamline their ability to take the next-generation fighter jet to war.

Micah Garbarino, spokesperson with Hill Air Force Base’s 388th Fighter Wing, said the wing’s 388th Maintenance Group inaugurated four new squadrons Friday, Nov. 6, as part of the wingwide reorganization effort.

He said the new structure aims to streamline “administrative and operational control” over hundreds of F-35 maintainers and their mission, making them “more agile and responsive as they maintain, sustain and employ the F-35A Lightning II.”

“As a wing, we have been researching, discussing, debating and landing on ideas to improve our organizations and functions to better train and deliver combat capability,” said Col. Steven Behmer, 388th FW commander. “Optimizing our operations will continue to be a priority for us.”

In the reorganization, the largest of the maintenance group’s squadrons — the 900-plus member 388th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron — was divided into three smaller squadrons called “Fighter Generation Squadrons,” Garbarino said. Each of those groups will be aligned with one of the 388th’s three fighter squadrons.

As a fighter wing, the 388th has 78 individual F-35s, divided equally among the three squadrons. As the Air Force’s F-35 program continues to progress at Hill, airmen from the squadrons, alongside reservists from the 419th Fighter Wing, have served three Middle East combat deployments in less than two years.

The airmen have deployed in support of the Air Force Central Command’s mission at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. The 4th Fighter Squadron, which deployed in April 2019, was the first. The 34th FS followed, deploying in October 2019 and returning home in June and July. The 421st deployed in June and returned in October.

The 4th FS’s mission marked the first time the Air Force’s F-35 performed a real-world combat operation, and the group completed at least two combat strikes on enemy forces. In September 2019, F-35s and pilots from Hill were part of a group that dropped about 80,000 pounds of bombs on Qanus Island in Iraq — a spot that has been used as a hideout by the Islamic State group. In April 2019, Hill F-35 pilots conducted an air strike at Wadi Ashai, Iraq, hitting a long-established IS tunnel network and weapons cache in a remote area of the Hamrin Mountains.

At the time, Air Force officials said the strike marked the jet’s first real-world combat strike.

Col. Jeremy Anderson, 388th Maintenance Group commander, said the restructure effort, quite simply, will improve he wing’s capability to do similar things.

“The goals of this reorganization are straightforward — to improve our ability to take care of airmen, improve readiness and increase combat capability,” he said, noting that the new, smaller maintenance squadrons will provide more control for their commanders and create an increased ability for leadership to get to know airmen.

Also part of the reorganization, the fighter wing created a “Logistics Support Squadron,” made up of 200 airmen across 14 different career fields. Garbarino said that group consolidates maintenance, logistics, weapons-load training and quality assurance into one unit.

Garbarino said the model Hill is transitioning to was employed earlier this year at the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw AFB in South Carolina.

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