Rick Bowmer, Associated Press
FILE - In this Sept. 2, 2015, file photo, an F-35 jet flies over its new operational base at Hill Air Force Base, in northern Utah.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Utah airmen from the 388th Fighter Wing and 419th Fighter Wing deployed to the Middle East this week, marking the first time Hill Air Force Base has sent F-35A fighter jets to support the United States Air Force Central Command mission in the region.

The aircraft arrived at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates on April 15.

“For those of us who have been a part of the F-35 program for a while, this is a huge milestone,” Col. Lee Kloos, 388th Fighter Wing commander, said in a statement.

Speaking to a group of airmen gathered in Hill’s Deployment Control Center, he said, “You’re the first. We’re proud of you and we’ll be watching you as you bring this jet’s capabilities to bear in support of our nation’s defense.”

The group of airmen is made up of pilots from the active duty 4th Fighter Squadron and 466th reserve Fighter Squadron, along with active duty and reserve airmen in the 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit as well as other support personnel.

For Staff Sgt. Riley Curry, who has been in the F-35A program his entire career, preparing for the deployment was challenging but carrying out the mission should now be second nature.

“It’s neat to be on our first deployment and part of the first operational F-35A deployment, but we’re going out to do our job — the same one we do here every day,” he said.

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The F-35A, the conventional takeoff and landing aircraft of the Joint Strike Fighter jet, provides greater operational capability by combining advanced stealth capabilities with the latest weapons technology, a news release states.

“We are adding a cutting edge weapons system to our arsenal that significantly enhances the capability of the coalition,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command. “The sensor fusion and survivability this aircraft provides to the joint force will enhance security and stability across the theater and deter aggressors.”