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Building wing from ground up: 302nd AW’s founding maintenance chief retires after decades of service

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Chief Master Sgt. Mike Sanchez, pictured as a senior master sergeant above, assists with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System operations during wildland fire fighting activity here in 2002. Sanchez retired in January 2017 after serving 33 years with the Air Force Reserve at Peterson with the 302nd Airlift Wing and 901st Tactical Airlift Group. (Courtesy photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Chief Master Sgt. Mike Sanchez, pictured as a senior master sergeant above, assists with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System operations during wildland fire fighting activity here in 2002. Sanchez retired in January 2017 after serving 33 years with the Air Force Reserve at Peterson with the 302nd Airlift Wing and 901st Tactical Airlift Group. (Courtesy photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

The 302nd Airlift Wing lost another founding member this month when Chief Master Sgt. Mike Sanchez, maintenance operations superintendent, retired after 37 years of service, with 33 spent as an Air Reserve Technician at Peterson. Sanchez first arrived here in 1984, assigned to the 901st Tactical Airlift Group, which would transition to the Air Force Reserve’s 302nd Airlift Wing a year later. At that time, there were eight C-130B model aircraft assigned to the 901st TAG, but there were no hangars and the ramp was asphalt.

Sanchez has seen a multitude of changes during his tenure including the wing’s aircraft inventory which went from eight primary aircraft assigned, to 16 to 12 and now back to eight. He’s seen the transition from C-130B aircraft to E model and current H3 models. He was part of the group to take possession of new C-130H3 aircraft off Lockheed Martin’s assembly line in 1994.

He was here when the wing took on the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System mission in 1993, as well as seeing the transition of the USFS MAFFS going from the legacy units to the second generation or MAFFS II module.

“I’ve always enjoyed coming to work every day. I have literally seen this wing being built from the ground up,” said Sanchez. “After becoming a Wing in 1985, we ‘plussed’ up to 16 aircraft, built new hangars, buildings and poured a concrete ramp.”

Sanchez got a job right out of high school with E Systems, building 747 autopilot systems. Then layoffs occurred and he found himself out of work. Looking for a little more stability he joined the Air Force. After four years of Active Duty service he submitted his reenlistment paperwork. Then he heard about a Reserve unit standing up in Colorado Springs, Colo. and chief thought “Well, this is home.” So he pulled back his paperwork, took a two-week vacation between jobs and found himself at Peterson AFB. He’s been here serving as an ART ever since.

One thing Sanchez says he will miss is the people and the relationships he has built in the Reserve wing over the past three decades. “There are so many memories over the past 33 years.”

Sanchez credits the working relationship between maintenance and operations as one of the reasons the working environment is so good here.

“The working relationship between maintenance and operations, bar none, probably the best within 22nd Air Force,” said Sanchez. “We really have a good working relationship with those guys. We’re just a tight family. The operators know what kind of aircraft they are getting from maintenance. We don’t take shortcuts. We make sure they have a safe airplane to fly. The 302nd Airlift Wing is the premiere airlift wing within 22nd Air Force. Everybody wanted to come to Colorado.”

“While I am sad that Chief Sanchez will no longer be physically present on a day-to-day basis, his fingerprints will be all over the 302d for years to come,” said Col. Jeff Higgins, 302nd Maintenance Group commander.  “There is an old expression that says there are no irreplaceable people; however, I might say he is the exception to that norm.  He has left an indelible impression and this wing would not be the organization that it is without his efforts.”

 

Sanchez is not sure what his future holds now that he is retired, but a large part of daily life will be different from here on out. His only goal is to “enjoy life.”

“I have seen a lot of folks come and go, gone through some tragic times with the loss of SUMIT 38 in May 1995. I’ve enjoyed some good times working alongside some great people. I would hope that I have had some impact on this wing’s success over the past 33 years. As I go out the gate one last time as a retired member of this fantastic Wing, I will cherish the fond memories I have had. Thank you all for your support and friendship and I wish you all the best as you continue your Air Force careers,” said Sanchez.

 

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