Airmen and F-16s from the “Triple Nickel” returned to Aviano Air Base, Italy, in mid-April following a six-month combat deployment to the Middle East—the first time a full unit has returned from a deployment since the Defense Department ordered a restriction on movement because of COVID-19.
The Airmen from the 555th Fighter Squadron returned to a region of Italy that has been hit hard by the new coronavirus. The Pentagon’s restriction of movement directive, first ordered in mid-March and extended on April 20, has forced some deployed service members to remain downrange because of concerns regarding the virus.
Previously, a small number of service members have returned from deployments after receiving waivers. The updated stop movement order eases policies to allow for more deployments and redeployments, said Matt Donovan, the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
The 555th deployed to southwest Asia in October on short notice amid tensions with Iran, arriving in theater 14 days after the order. The unit flew combat missions in support of both Operation Inherent Resolve against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan. The 555th also forward deployed to Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia.
“It was a unique experience for everybody, but they all excelled in everything they had done the entire time, above and beyond what you’d be asked to do in any normal deployment,” the unit’s commander, Lt. Col. Beau Diers, said in a video released by the base.
Photographs of the arrival ceremony show Airmen wearing masks and having their temperatures taken. The Airmen will now be quarantined for about two weeks.
The northern region of Italy has been the hardest hit part of that country, though Aviano Airmen have maintained readiness through local training, telework, and schedule adjustments. The 555th’s sister squadron, the 510th, had been flying at a higher rate in recent weeks with more ramp and office space open, the base’s Airmen told Air Force Magazine in a recent interview.