109th Airlift Wing commander departing for D.C.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTOCol. Michele Kilgore is shown at Stratton Air National Guard Base in December 2017, soon after taking over as commander of the 109th Airlift Wing.
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GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
Col. Michele Kilgore is shown at Stratton Air National Guard Base in December 2017, soon after taking over as commander of the 109th Airlift Wing.

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, News

GLENVILLE — The 109th Airlift Wing will be getting a new commander.

Col. Michele Kilgore, who has led the Glenville-based Air National Guard unit since 2017, is moving to a new job at the Pentagon next week. The wing’s vice commander, Col. Christian Sander, will take over as the new commander in February after his current deployment to New Zealand ends.

Kilgore, the first woman to lead the 109th in its history, is also commander of its home, the Stratton Air National Guard Base.

The 1992 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy is a second-generation air combat veteran — she flew missions over Iraq in an F-16, and  her father flew a Marine Corps F-4 over Vietnam.

She has piloted an unusually wide array of aircraft in her military career besides the F-16 fighter, including the KC-10 tanker, C-12 light transport, EA-6B electronic warfare aircraft, MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle and C-130 medium transport. 

Kilgore’s new position will be political-military affairs officer in the Strategy, Plans and Policy Directorate, which provides recommendations to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Pentagon will be her 11th duty location in 18 assignments.

She said in a news release that her new position will be a good fit with her educational background — she holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in national security studies.

The 109th flies the LC-130, the red-tailed, four-engine planes regularly seen humming through the Capital Region skies. The L variant of the venerable C-130 transport is equipped with skis for takeoffs and landings on snow and ice, and regularly undertakes missions to the polar regions.

Kilgore has flown to Antarctica three times and Greenland seven times during her time as commander.

In contrast to Kilgore, Sander has spent his career in one place, focused on one plane: Always assigned to the Glenville base except for a short stint at state headquarters in Latham, flying C-130s and LC-130s the whole time.

The Lake George resident currently is in New Zealand with 30 other airmen and three LC-130s, on standby for potential emergency missions to Antarctica. 

For the past 32 years, the 109th has had airmen and aircraft in Antarctica, ferrying people and materials to support scientific research there during the frozen continent’s summer (which is mid-autumn to mid-winter back home in Glenville). In 2019-2020, they airlifted 2,100 people, 2.8 million pounds of cargo and 1.8 million pounds of cargo to various research stations across the continent.

This year, the National Science Foundation is limiting the number of people in Antarctica as much as possible to reduce the threat of COVID-19. So the 109th is on standby 2,400 miles north, in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Until Sander returns, Col. Rob Donaldson will lead the 109th back in Glenville.

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