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Pennsylvania native takes command of Utah's Hill Air Force Base

Published January 11, 2013 2:48 pm

Air Force • Col. Kathryn Kolbe takes command of base.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Hill Air Force Base • The new commander of Hill Air Force Base, Col. Kathryn Kolbe, will have to make tough decisions in turbulent times, her commanding officer said Friday at a change-of-command ceremony.

Kolbe replaced Col. Zarah Zabel, commander of the base's 75th Fighter Wing since July 2012.

About 3,000 of the base's 24,000 military and civilian employees fall under the wing, but its commander is considered the base commander. The wing provides installation support for Ogden Air Logistics Complex, two fighter wings and 61 other associate units. It also sends out airmen with Air and Space Expeditionary Forces and supports operations of the 1,500-square-mile Utah Test and Training Range.

Lt. Gen. Bruce Litchfield, commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center, officiated at the ceremony, in which he received the 75th's flag from Zabel and passed it to Kolbe. Zabel was saluted by airmen of the 75th for the last time and Kolbe for the first.

Zabel's tenure was underscored by change and budget challenges, and Kolbe's will be the same, Litchfield said.

Zabel, in line to become a brigadier general, will go to special training and is considered an assistant to Litchfield until her next assignment.

The former commander passed out compliments to various groups, praising her fellow commanders for working so well together as a coalition and the airmen and civilians of the 75th as people who make her proud. Civic support, she said, is amazing. "I've never seen a community that goes farther to make us welcome."

Kolbe has been at Hill for two and a half years, mostly as deputy commander of the wing she now commands. In recent months, she was an assistant to Litchfield, though based at Hill.

A native of Pennsylvania, she has a bachelor's degree in engineering and two master's degrees in management. She deployed twice to Iraq during the recent war.

"We are faced with unprecedented resourcing challenges," Kolbe said, referring to looming federal budget cuts that could change all corners of the military. "We will have to recognize opportunities, improve processes, maximize our available resources and now, more than ever, take care of our Air Force family."

The 75th Air Base Wing, she said, is "behind the scenes with little fanfare," providing medical, engineering, communications, security, logistics airfield operations and other roles year-round and around the clock. "You," she told those now in her command, "keep Team Hill firing on all cylinders."

Kolbe's husband, Col. Rick LeBlanc, commander of the 388th Range Squadron that runs the Utah Test and Training Range, and their 11-month-old daughter, Kate, sat in the front row at Friday's ceremony.

Utah's two U.S. senators, Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, as well as Congressman Rob Bishop were among the dignitaries and community leaders who traveled snowy roads to attend the morning ceremony.

kmoulton@sltrib.com