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Father, judge, leader — all in a day’s work for Robert Sanford

By Mitch Shaw standard-Examiner - | Oct 25, 2020

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Juggling, apparently, just comes naturally for some people.

Case in point: Robert Sanford.

In his day job, Sanford serves as a full-time circuit court judge. When his days at the courts are through, he’s a dedicated husband and father. He’s also an Air Force reservist with Hill Air Force Base’s 419th Fighter Wing, serving as commander of the wing’s Security Forces Squadron. So in addition to making calls in the courtroom and at home, he regularly travels to the base to fulfill duties involved with leading the reserve wing’s police force.

Oh, and he lives in Wyoming.

“It’s always a challenge,” Sanford told the Standard-Examiner. “But as long as there is give and take, it works.”

Earlier this year, the 48-year-old Air Force major was appointed as a circuit court judge in Albany County, Wyoming — one of only 24 such positions in the Cowboy State. Sanford graduated law school from the University of Wyoming and served as a state prosecutor for about 10 years. Before that, he was in private practice.

He said he’s always had an eye on a judgeship and had been working toward that goal for a long time.

“This is a governor-appointed position,” Sanford said. “So when I got that phone call, I almost had to pinch myself.”

Sanford said the stress and the workload are similar to his work as a prosecutor, but he is required to be at the office a lot more as a judge. He said he also feels the added responsibility and weight of the work that comes with being a public servant charged with properly administering justice.

“Taking the bench does change life as you know it,” he said. “But the essence of work life is the same: We all want to be men and women of character and consequence. As a judge I aspire to be kind when I can, firm when I must and above all and at all times, to be fair.”

Sanford takes the same approach to leading the 419th SFS.

According to information provided by the 419th FW Public Affairs Office, the outfit is made up of more than 80 reservists trained to protect military installations around the world. The majority of 419th SFS personnel are traditional reservists who serve part-time in the military, but also have full-time careers in the community, such as police or corrections officers.

The squadron is essentially the police force for the fighter wing, trained in law enforcement and combat arms to protect and serve their fellow airmen around the clock. Divided into several different areas of expertise, the group’s duties include responding to emergencies, directing traffic and investigating crimes on base.

As a traditional reservist, Sanford’s service requirement is one weekend a month and two weeks a year, but he said the reality is that he and many others who wear the uniform work a lot more frequently than that.

As a judge advocate general officer, Sanford would often go on active-duty orders for weeks or even months at a time for special projects. Now, as the SFS commander, he said the job requires daily attention. A lot of his work can be accomplished remotely — often times between court hearings — but there are training and management duties that require him to be at the base regularly.

“The result is that the weekends are longer than just the weekend,” Sanford said. “But it is a labor of love. The courts have been flexible with military duties. My family has been extremely supportive. They are my rock. When I am home, I try to really be home. It takes practice to leave work at the office. But it’s absolutely essential to be able to set work aside for the precious moments with family.”

During most of the year, Sanford’s commute to Hill is an uneventful six-hour drive, but during the winter months, he said the drive can almost double when the snow flies.

“The commute generally doesn’t bother me,” he said. “It provides time to reflect on the mission, our men and women who signed up to serve their country, and our role in and impact on our national security. I love Hill and its surrounding communities. It is my family’s home away from home.”

Though Sanford is in somewhat rarefied air in terms of the gravity of his dual leadership duties, he’s ultimately just one of hundreds of “citizen airmen” at the 419th.

According to data provided by 419th spokesperson Kari Tilton, the wing has more than 1,300 reservists who work full-time, yet serve their country as “citizen airmen.” About 90% of those reservists live, work and raise families in Northern Utah. Reservists work for major employers like Intermountain Healthcare, University of Utah, Zions Bank, Delta Airlines, the Department of Defense and the state of Utah.

The 419th has an annual operating budget of $40.5 million and in addition to F-35 operations and maintenance work alongside the active-duty 388th Fighter Wing, the 419th also has medical professionals, firefighters, security forces, aerial port specialists, civil engineers, logistics workers and explosive ordnance disposal personnel. The reserve wing is capable of deploying in just 72 hours’ notice and has most recently participated in three missions to the Middle East with the Air Force’s F-35.

Sanford said he’s “in awe” of his fellow reservists, particularly those in his squadron.

“We ask so much of them and they are so willing to give,” he said. “The training regimen is packed and the readiness demands are steep. And yet, they drive on.”

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