BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
On July 17, Headquarters RIO lost 28 years of Individual Reserve management experience when the Detachment 6 commander retired.
In a joint ceremony held in the Davis Conference Center at MacDill Air Force Base, Col. Malia Spranger, the Det. 6 commander, retired alongside her husband, Lt. Col. Kurt Spranger, U.S. Southern Command international integration team chief.
While this unique, double ceremony marked the loss of 64 years of Air Force experience, it also highlighted the legacy the couple leaves behind. In attendance were the Spranger’s three sons, Kurt II, Craig, and Zachary, who are all Air Force Academy graduates, now serving throughout the force.
The packed-house retirement was presided over by long-time Spranger family friend and Academy classmate, Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Sharpy, director of strategic plans, requirements and programs, Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.
Malia and Kurt, who both come from military families, met as classmates at the Air Force Academy. Following graduation, they married and moved to Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, where Kurt attended pilot training, and Malia had her first brush with the Individual Reserve program.
She said in 1987, she held the additional duty of of Air Reserve Management Officer, overseeing about 125 Individual Mobilization Augmentees and learned it was a great program. In 1992, after six years of active duty and the birth of their three sons, she transitioned to the Individual Reserve, as a readiness officer.
The careers of husband and wife progressed, and their family matured. Following a stint flying C-141s at Travis Air Force Base, California, the family moved to the Air Force Academy where Kurt served as as chief of intramurals. Their sons were in elementary school during those years, and the cadets they met left an enduring impression that would one day lead all three of them back to the Academy.
While Kurt taught cadets, Malia continued serving as an IMA, now at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, as a readiness flight commander. In 2000, following his tour at the Academy, Kurt left active duty to fly jets for American Airlines, and the family moved to Florida.
It was there, after the attacks of 9/11, that Malia returned to managing IRs. She was mobilized by U.S. Central Command to oversee the mobilization of IMAs for Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Following that assignment, she was hired into an Active Guard Reserve position at Special Operations Command in 2003, still managing IRs.
That same year, Kurt decided to resume his Air Force career and re-enlisted as an academy liaison officer in the Air Force Reserve; his wife swore him in.
Malia continued managing IRs at SOCOM until 2007, when she promoted to colonel and took a reserve position as the SOCOM deputy inspector general. Meanwhile Kurt rose to become the top ALO in Florida and their oldest son departed for the Academy.
Kurt II said that even though his parents were both Air Force Academy alumni and his dad was serving as an ALO, they didn’t pressure their sons to join. He said their experience at the Academy as kids, when the cadets were like big brothers to them, and the example Kurt and Malia set were the two biggest factors that led all three sons to follow in their parent’s footsteps.
As the boys headed off to the Academy, Malia continued to serve as deputy IG until 2012, and Kurt took assignments with U.S. Central Command then SOCOM, building relationships with international partners. Malia’s reputation in IR management preceded her and when the Readiness Management Group, predecessor to HQ RIO, solicited for a detachment commander, she was selected to take over Det 3.
In addition to applying her expertise to the day-to-day management of 1200-plus IRs, Malia’s skills would be invaluable during the 2014 transition of IR management to HQ RIO. According to Col. Carolyn A. Stickell, the HQ RIO commander, Malia’s expertise and leadership in IR management were critical during the shift. Following the merger, her detachment was renumbered to Det 6.
The couple finished their careers with a ceremony that, according to Kurt II, had a very personal, off-the-cuff feel he hadn’t been previously seen.
The couple highlighted the legacy they are leaving behind by giving the oath of office to Kurt II, who was recently promoted to captain. Kurt senior administered the oath.
“He stopped half way through, and I though he forgot the words,” said Kurt II. “I started helping him under my breath and then I realized he was choked up.”
Kurt II added that a focus on others was a theme throughout the retirement, and he felt the spotlight was really on the relationships his parents had built throughout their careers. He also said those relationships mean they aren’t really done with the Air Force.
“The Air Force has always been a part of their lives and will continue to be,” said their eldest son. “They have three boys in the service, and they’ll remain actively involved in the community. They’re not saying a complete goodbye.”
Youngest-son Zachary agreed with his brother’s sentiments and said this will be the retirement to which he compares all other retirements.
“The Invocation, the speech from Gen. Sharpy, the flag folding, and my brother's promotion were all done so prudently and full of emotion,” he said.
During the family photo session following the receiving line, Zachary had one more surprise up his sleeve. After the last picture was taken, he said he pulled his family together.
"I love my family but today I wish to make it bigger," he said as he turned and called his for his girlfriend, Julia, to come over. “She immediately put her hands up to her face, which gave me the biggest smile of my life.”
He proposed. She said yes.
Malia’s final day with HQ RIO was July 31. Col. Clifton Stargardt will serve as the new Det 6 commander.
“Her experience managing IMAs can't be easily replaced; she will be sorely missed!” said Stickell. “We have been so lucky to have her as a part of HQ RIO, and her legacy will live on long after she starts this next chapter of her life.”