A squadron of F-35A Lightning II fighters from Hill Air Force Base has returned from a five-month deployment to Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, the Air Force said in a release Monday.

The expeditionary 421st Fighter Squadron, made up of airmen and fighters from Hill’s active-duty 388th and Reserve 419th fighter wings, deployed to Al Dhafra on May 20, along with maintainers from the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit.

It marked the third time Hill F-35s had deployed for combat in the Middle East in about 16 months.

The squadron’s pilots and F-35s returned on Friday, and the remaining hundreds of airmen from the squadron followed on Sunday, photographs posted by Hill showed. The airmen will quarantine for two weeks in case any have contracted the coronavirus.

During the deployment, the Air Force said, the 421st used the F-35 to conduct close air support missions, offensive and defensive counter-air missions, and joint exercises with partners in the Middle East to enable "regional deterrence.”

“We’re all proud of the job that the 421st [Fighter Squadron] has done and we’re excited to have them back home,” Col. Steven Behmer, commander of the 388th Fighter Wing, said in the release. “They picked up right where our previously deployed squadrons left off. We’ll continue to train here and remain focused on providing F-35A combat capability.”

There are 78 F-35As at Hill, and the two wings there are the Air Force’s first combat-capable F-35 units.

“Our airmen provided a blanket of security for our nation and our allies, while putting our adversaries on notice,” Chief Master Sgt. Liz Cloyd, the squadron’s command chief, said in the release. “There is no doubt they were ready and prepared to meet the needs laid out in our National Defense Strategy. Now, we welcome them home for a well-deserved rest and reconstitution.”

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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