WESTFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The 104th Fighter Wing from Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield took to the skies of western Massachusetts Sunday for a NATO surveillance mission in Europe that will continue over the next 6 months.

Commander James Keefe of the 104th Fighter Wing explained the mission’s purpose to 22News. “The purpose of this mission is basically two fold, the first one is actual surveillance of the Northern Atlantic, and the second purpose of this deployment or mission is to work with our NATO allies,” he said.

Commander Keefe said the mission is part of “Operation Atlantic Resolve,” which the United States started in 2014 to prevent further Russian aggression in the region. “President Putin in Russia, they’ve been flying a lot of their bombers, long range aviation, kind of challenging us in Europe, so what the F-15’s mission is going to be doing is protecting the airspace in the Northern Atlantic,” he said.

Barnes Air National Guard Base is sending 12 F-15 Fighter Jets in total. The first four left on Saturday, the second four left on Sunday, and the remaining four will leave later in the week.

In total, the United States deployed 12 F-15 Fighter Jets and 350 airmen out of Barnes Air National Guard base in Westfield, and another base in California.

Once they land, the fighter jets will watch over the skies of Iceland, while the airmen conduct training exercises in the Netherlands with our NATO allies.

Joseph DeBlase of Northampton told 22News it makes him proud to live in the same part of the state as so many local heroes. “I think it’s wonderful not only for the community but for the nation,” he said.