The first overseas deployment of the Vermont Air National Guard’s F-35 fighter jets will have the pilots and their aircraft patrolling the skies of Europe during one of the most tense periods in recent history.
More than 200 Vermont air guard personnel, their equipment and eight F-35s are now in Europe, where the pilots will fly what are called enhanced air policing missions along NATO’s eastern flank to monitor the area for intrusions by Russian aircraft.
The deployment marks the first time the Vermont Air National Guard, the first guard unit in the country to fly the F-35s, has deployed overseas with the Air Force’s newest airplane.
The deployment comes only months after the Vermont guard had completed its conversion from the F-16 fighter planes they used to fly to the F-35s, which began arriving in Vermont in September 2019.
“We’re there to defend NATO,” said F-35 pilot Lt. Col John “Rocky” MacRae, a squadron commander within the Vermont Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing. “We’re not there to to be aggressive or start anything. We’re there to posture in defense of NATO and support our allies.”