HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The “mayor” of Hill Air Force Base is leaving after a little more than 18 months on the job.
Col. Sarah Zabel, current commander of the base’s 75th Air Base Wing, will formally relinquish her position Friday during a change of command ceremony at Hill.
Zabel will be replaced by Col. Kathryn L. Kolbe, who previously served as vice commander of the wing.
As wing commander, Zabel was responsible for providing installation support for the Ogden Air Logistics Complex, two fighter wings and 61 other associate units, totaling 24,000 active-duty, civilian and contractor personnel.
The Air Base Wing commander position is often referred to as the base’s mayor.
Zabel took command of the wing in June 2011 — the beginning of what would be a tumultuous time for both Hill and the Air Force.
A year ago, the Air Force announced a restructuring plan to increase efficiency and save about $109 million annually.
Hill was part of that restructuring, which went into effect on July 17 and resulted in the Ogden Air Logistics Center being reorganized and redesignated the Ogden Air Logistics Complex.
The transition resulted in the loss of 159 military jobs at Hill, and the management of the Air Logistics Complex now reports to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
“I think that was probably my biggest challenge, finding out about the personnel reductions and then the aftermath that came from that,” Zabel said. “We had a sharply diminished budget, but didn’t see any reductions in our workloads.”
About the same time the restructuring plan was announced, Zabel was nominated by President Barack Obama for promotion to brigadier general.
Her promotion will take effect sometime after she completes a five-week Air Force course required of generals.
Zabel said she already knows what job she has been approved for, but can’t say what it is yet because the Air Force hasn’t announced it.
Zabel did say her new job will not be at Hill, a place she says will always remain close to her heart.
“I will certainly miss it here,” she said. “I loved the skiing, the national parks and all the outdoors stuff, but mostly I’ll miss the people here at Hill and in the surrounding community.”
Zabel said when she would leave the base in uniform, strangers would often approach her and thank her for her service.
“The support of the military here is one of a kind,” she said.
Zabel said Kolbe will likely face many of the same challenges she did — especially since a Department of Defense budget sequestration, which includes $500 billion in defense cuts over the next decade, still looms.
“I think the continuing budget reductions will continue to be a challenge,” she said. “We’re going to face some tough times ahead, but it’s important that we come together and tackle things as a team.”