HILL AIR FORCE BASE – For the first time, F-35s stationed at Hill Air Force Base are being deployed to the Pacific.
This week, a dozen of the F-35 A Lightning IIs, along with 300 airmen from the active duty 388th and reserve 419th fighter wings, will be deployed to the Kadena Air Base in Japan for six months.
This will be the first overseas tour for F35 As and comes at a critical time—as tensions grow between the US and North Korea.
“It’s exciting for the unit. We’re the only combat unit in the Air Force with the F-35,” said Colonel Lee Kloos, 388th Flight Wing Commander.
It’s also an opportunity to showcase what the sophisticated fighter jet can do.
“One of the things we talk about with the F-35 is we can be the quarterback for other weapons systems,” said Colonel David W. Smith, 419th Fighter Wing Commander.
This is the first long-term deployment for the squadron. In the spring, 200 airmen and eight jets were deployed to England for three weeks.
“Our footprint is a little bit bigger on this deployment versus what we did in the spring when we went to Europe,” Kloos said. “We’re bringing more aircraft and more people as well as some additional challenges.”
Commanders are eager to take this next logical step. While the timing of the mission may be in question amid tensions with North Korea, commanders make one thing clear.
“This is just a normal rhythm that we’ve done. The Theater Security package is something we’ve done as a nation and at the Department of Defense since 2004,” Kloos said. “We’ve known about this and have been training up for it. We’re prepared to do it.”
The reserve airmen will be swapped out after 90 days to return home, since many are civilians and have full-time jobs