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Robert Donaldson, of Greenfield Center, takes command of 109th Airlift Wing

Robert Donaldson (109th Airlift Wing/Released)

Col. Robert Donaldson stood smiling as he watched his outgoing commander take the 109th Airlift Wing’s flag for the last time as their top officer. He was next to hold the banderole as he stepped into the shoes fit for the fleet’s leaders.

Donaldson, of Greenfield Center, has been with the wing for 33 years and has now assumed the highest position. Most recently, he served as the Deputy Wing Commander of the 109th Airlift Wing at Stratton Air National Guard Base. In the past, he worked at the National Guard Bureau and was the Director of Staff at New York’s Joint Force Headquarters in Latham. He replaces Col. Christian Sander.

The ceremony opened with a booming rendition of the National Anthem and the wing stood listening as they prepared to salute their new leader. After chaplain Major Xiomara Diaz led the invocation, the official party stepped to the podium to make their remarks.

“I know you will keep your focus on safety, strength and readiness,” said Maj. Gen. Denise Donnell, the commander of the New York Air National Guard. “And I know your family too will put up with late calls and early texts.”

Then Sander took to the microphone to reflect on his own years on the job as he welcomed Donaldson to the post.

“My right hand man, the one that has been with me from day one, a mission navigator, a degreed civil engineer, a licensed lawyer … a consummate professional, loyal and skilled in all things Air National Guard, Col. Rob Donaldson. I truly could not have done it without you,” Sander said. You have provided steady counsel, you’ve talked me up, you’ve talked me down as needed. And as I’ve come to know you my confidence in your ability to lead this wing forward is at full scale high.”

After being lauded by his now former boss, Donaldson readied himself for the change of command. The handing off of the flag represents the official switch of leadership, after which Donaldson addressed his squadron for the first time in his new capacity.

“With this new responsibility, I stand proud and ready with the wing and it’s 1,200 mission ready airmen to embrace change with a committed sense of purpose, and a united focus that leverages our polar savviness and the operational experience for the betterment of the Air Force, the Air National Guard, the New York National Guard.”

Donaldson looked back on his decades long military career as he took the first steps in it’s future.

“I joined the Air Force 33 years ago as an enlisted aviator, and throughout that time to the present I’ve seen an enormous amount of change in the Air Force strategy. I’ve seen the fall of the Soviet Union, most of you have probably only read about that in history books, but I was there. And I’ve also seen a complete Air Force strategy shift with the rise of non-state actors against the backdrop of 911,” he said.

As for what lies ahead, Donaldson hopes to put some focus on recruitment to get the wing up to end strength — meaning they are more than 100% manned. Additionally, he hopes to modernize an aging LC-130 aircraft that dates back around 50 years. Donaldson is an LC-130H navigator with more than 4,350 flight hours logged.

“If there’re folks out there that are interested in joining the military, they can do it right in their own backyard here at Stratton. We call them ‘citizen soldiers.’,” he said. “So you can serve your time and work in your local communities and then just give back yourself and your communities and not have to go join the big Air Force, you can stay right here.”

Thanks was the theme of the afternoon as Donaldson not only expressed gratitude for his fleet, friends and family but for the opportunity to lead them all in a new capacity.

“I’m elated, it’s such a blessing to be considered with the trust and confidence that the state leadership has placed in me along with the military services here. I’m really proud of this moment. Coming in 33 years ago, I was 19 years old, and came in enlisted. I was not an officer at the time.”

Donaldson resides in Saratoga County with his wife Loana. The couple has two children, Kaiden and Elise. The colonel moved to the Capital Region as a young adult after growing up on a ranch downstate.


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