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Legacy of firsts: vice commander retires after 40 years of service

  • Published
  • By Technical Sgt. Caleb Keck
  • 162nd Wing

Col. Sandra L. Wilson, the 162nd Wing’s vice commander, retired after 40 years of service at Morris Air National Guard Base, May 14, 2022, leaving a legacy of leadership firsts.

Wilson served the state of Arizona for 28 years, beginning her career as an enlisted airman and ending it as the first female, non-rated vice wing commander of the 162nd Wing.

During the ceremony, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Butler, 162nd Wing commander, described the impact of Wilson’s long-lasting service.

“She had an unprecedented career,” said Butler.  “She offers hope to the whole wing. No one has been here before and done this kind of stuff.”

Before her promotion to vice wing commander, Wilson also set the record as the first female maintenance squadron commander and first maintenance group deputy commander.

Wilson’s genuine personality and thoughtfulness were evident throughout her time at the 162nd Wing, and even in her retirement speech as she took a moment to recognize the Vietnam Veterans, most especially her uncle, that were in attendance.

“One of the privileges that we get in the military today, is the support of the public,” said Wilson. “It hasn’t always been that way. I want to give my uncle and any other Vietnam Vets our appreciation for their service.”

Wilson mentioned that her call to serve the nation started before she was born when her parents decided to name her Sandra. As a little girl, she discovered the meaning of her name in a gift shop. 

“I came across a rack of coffee mugs with first names on them,” said Wilson. “I found Sandra and right then and there my life changed forever because the meaning of my name is ‘helper of mankind.’”

Wilson took her discovery to heart and decided to follow in her father’s footsteps as a police officer in the United States Air Force. Her first enlistment started in the Philippines in 1982, moved her to England and then finally she returned to the United States where she would finish out four decades of service.

Through the very end of her career, Wilson demonstrated her desire to "help mankind" by securing special salary rates for airmen in understaffed and critical career fields. She also championed the construction and re-design of  flightline sunshades to help keep maintainers cool and to accommodate mission growth in the future. 

“Imagine the rarity of an officer with 40 years of service,” said Butler. “In this case it is certainly flagged by success. I am just super proud of Sandy’s career.”