June 13, 2014 10:46:35 AM
Col. Jim Sears announced his replacement as wing commander at Columbus Air Force Base Thursday during a meeting of the Base Community Council.
As of July 11, Colonel John Nichols will be the new wing commander of the 14th Flying Training Wing. According to a press release issued by base officials, Nichols is a senior pilot with more than 2,000 flight hours in the B-1, MQ-9, T-37, and T-38 aircraft, including 662 combat hours. He was commissioned in 1992 after receiving his degree in political science from the Air Force Academy.
Sears will leave CAFB and head to San Antonio, Texas, where he will serve as Chief of Officer Assignments at Randolph Air Force Base.
Sears, wing commander since July 2012, said CAFB has a rally of invaluable community support behind it.
"I could tell right away there was something special about Columbus," he said. "I could tell that something was different here. I realize that there are some things the base brings to the community, but the neat thing is that all of you, when you shake my hand -- when I see you shake the other airmen's hands -- I can tell that you're not just here because of what the base brings. You're here because you really do care about the airmen. I can't say that with every assignment I've ever been in, I really can't. And that is the special thing about Columbus and Lowndes County and the area and what we have here."
During his tenure as wing commander, Sears changed the base's mission statement to "The premiere pilot training wing and community, developing the world's best airmen." Sears said his decision to change the mission statement was partially due to the support CAFB receives from local citizens.
"That is what drove me early on, when we changed our mission statement, " he said. "You are all a part of that."
In addition to changing the mission statement, Sears also oversaw a $32 million expansion on the runway, which is the longest in Mississippi at 12,000 feet. It was completed on time and under budget. Sears said two other runway expansion projects began at other bases at the same time as CAFB's, and, to date, CAFB is the only project completed. The expansion was "a great way to see a great team come together," he said.
As a pilot training base, CAFB saw 829 pilots graduate from pilot training during his two-year stay.
Of the 3,000 airmen who work at CAFB, more than 150 airmen were deployed under Sears.
Of those 150, the instructor pilots who deployed during 2013 flew almost 11,000 combat hours, Sears said.
"Little old Columbus, we don't deploy squadrons, but we flew as many combat hours as most combat wings did last year," he said.
"The future is bright for Columbus Air Force Base," Sears said.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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