HILL AIR FORCE BASE — By any account, Col. Matthew Fritz's quarter-century military career in the sky has been distinguished.
According to his Air Force bio, Fritz graduated from the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks in 1996 with a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Studies. He's served more than 26 years in the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard after starting his time in the service as an enlisted F-16 maintenance technician.
He's worked as an instructor pilot, with more than 3,400 flying hours in the F-22 and F-16. He's also flown more than 110 combat missions and was the first Air Force Reserve F-22 pilot ever to deploy in combat. He's also held multiple leadership positions during his tenure with the Air Force.
But when the new commander of Hill Air Force Base's 419th Fighter Wing talks about leadership, he says the works starts on the ground.
"There are several leaders who planted the seeds early in my career on the absolute importance of caring for airmen," Fritz said. "They emphasized the value of compassion, empathy and walking in others’ shoes."
Fritz took over as leader of the base's reserve wing earlier this month, replacing Col. Regina Sabric, who had served as wing's first female commander, since April 2018.
As commander of the 419th, Fritz will oversee more than 1,300 personnel, most of which are part-time reservists, which means they have full-time jobs outside of their work with the Air Force. In addition to pilots and maintainers associated with the base's F-35A combat team, the wing also provides a full-spectrum mission support function with medical personnel, firefighters, security forces, aerial port, civil engineers, logistics, and explosive ordnance disposal personnel, according to the 419th Public Affairs Office.
Fritz says the morale of the airmen under his charge is key to keeping the entire operation running smoothly. He says a top priority is to provide a safe work environment and to help reduce distractions so members of the wing can focus on their jobs.
"Without our people, the multimillion-dollar equipment and F-35s sitting out on the ramp here are useless," he said.
Fritz said when he began his career as an enlisted F-16 crew chief, he quickly grew to understand the importance of those leadership tenets he speaks of.
"When I was a young and impressionable airman, I would stand in awe, totally enamored, as the pilots walked out to the jets prior to flight," he said. "If a pilot or officer treated me with respect and kindness, it meant the world. On the other hand, if I was treated poorly, that had a lasting impact."