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 US 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.
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 the AOR in 15 years. However, the 555th has previously deployed to Afghanistan — which AFCENT’s website includes in its area of responsibility — several times, most recently in 2017.
AFCENT did not respond to a request to clarify that statement by press time, but it may have been referring only to the Middle East and not Afghanistan.
AFCENT Commander Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, who commanded the 555th from 2003 to 2005, visited the squadron at Al Udeid November 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 flight line, 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.