UPDATE: This story was updated on Nov. 15 with additional information from AFCENT clarifying this is the 555th’s first deployment to Al Udeid Air Base since 2004.
One of the Air Force’s most legendary fighter squadrons has returned to the Middle East.
The 555th Fighter Squadron from Aviano Air Base in Italy is now deployed to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility, which includes Middle Eastern nations such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Qatar, AFCENT said in a Nov. 10 release. The squadron’s F-16 Flying Falcons are flying out of Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar “to provide war-winning airpower and deterrence to the region,” the release said.
In a follow-up email the morning of Nov. 15 in response to an Air Force Times inquiry, AFCENT said it is the first time the 555th — which is part of the 31st Fighter Wing and is popularly known as the “Triple Nickel” — has deployed to Al Udeid in 15 years. AFCENT’s original release said it was the first time the squadron had deployed to the AOR in 15 years, although the 555th had previously deployed to Afghanistan several times, most recently in 2017.
AFCENT Commander Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, who commanded the 555th from 2003 to 2005, visited the squadron at Al Udeid Nov. 4, and took one of its F-16s for a flight.
“A lot has changed since I was the commander of the Triple Nickel,” Guastella said on the flightline, according to the release. “The level that they’re at now far exceeds anything that we were at back then, which makes me proud to be an American and thrilled to have them here today. From our pilots as well as our maintainers, continuing to generate world-class combat airpower after all this time makes me really proud.”
Guastella met with Lt. Col. Beau Diers, the commander of the 555th, before his flight.
“The Triple Nickel is rapidly mobile, we’re lethal and we’re ready to deliver multi-role air-to-ground, air-to-air and stand off munitions anywhere, anytime,” Diers said in the release. “The same esprit de corps and warrior mentality exists in the squadron dating all the way back to World War II, to Vietnam, and to countless deployments to the CENTCOM area of responsibility. The pilots and maintainers are ready and we’re happy to be here.”
The 555th has been around since 1942, when it was formed as the 555th Bombardment Squadron, flying B-26 Marauders out of England, France and Belgium during World War II, according to the squadron’s official history.
The squadron’s colors were retired during the post-WWII drawdown, but it was revived in 1964 at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida to fly the F-4C Phantom II. It returned to combat two years later in Southeast Asia, where it led the first night bombing attacks against North Vietnam, attacked the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and took part in Operation Linebacker I and II. The Triple Nickel racked up dozens of confirmed victories against MiGs and earned the sobriquet “World’s Largest Distributor of MiG Parts.”
The 555th returned to the United States and in 1974, moved to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where it began flying the F-15. Two decades later, it was transferred to Aviano and started flying the F-16.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein is another notable former commander of the 555th, who led its fighters into combat over Serbia in 1999.
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.