A unit of the New Jersey Air National Guard has been deployed to the Middle East in support of U.S. military activities in the eastern Mediterranean region following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel.
The 119th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, based at Atlantic City International Airport, received national attention Tuesday as its jets arrived overseas, though the specific base at which they will be located was not included in any media release. U.S. Central Command, based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., said only that the F-16s would were positioned in their area of responsibility, which includes the Middle East and portions of North Africa and central Asia.
The jets were prominently featured in a tweet published by CENTCOM on Tuesday, with their “New Jersey” tail flashes and “AC” tail code indicating that they are based in Atlantic City when stateside. The squadron is known as the “Jersey Devils.”
“We are fortunate to have the 119th EFS join us in U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich, of the 9th Air Force, to which the squadron will be attached during its deployment under the federal mission. “Air National Guard Airmen bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to our mission in the Middle East. The arrival of these Airmen strengthens our ability to support our allied, coalition, and regional partners as we work together to enhance regional stability and security.”
The 119th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron is the oldest of its kind in the United States military, dating back to 1930 as an observation squadron and becoming one of the original 29 squadrons of the then-Army National Guard (before the formation of the U.S. Air Force and ANG) prior to World War II.
In modern parlance, the fighters based in Atlantic City are sometimes more commonly known by their larger group name, the 177th Fighter Wing. The 119th, as part of the 177th, operates the F-16 C/D variants in the Block 30 configuration, which included integration of the HARM anti-radiation missile and the AIM-120 AMRAAM active radar-guided air-to-air missile. The Viper can also carry a wide number of air-to-ground munitions.
The activation of the 119th comes as the United States builds its force posture in the region following the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip, and follows the deployment of two U.S. Navy carrier strike groups, plus Air Force A-10 attack jets sent to the region. The involvement of Iran in the conflict drove the repositioning, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
“We know that the groups conducting these attacks are supported by the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and the Iranian regime,” Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a briefing. “What we are seeing is the prospect for more significant escalation against U.S. forces and personnel across the region, in the very near term, coming from Iranian proxy forces and ultimately from Iran.”
The New Jersey-based F-16s have already arrived in the region, Ryder said.