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Resilient leader takes command during uncertain times

Leading Citizen Airmen

Col. Mitchell Hanson, 301st Fighter Wing commander, Col. Randall Cason, former 44th Fighter Group commander, and Col. Matthew Fritz, incoming 44th FG commander, render the appropriate customs and courtesies during a change of command ceremony at Eglin AFB, Fla., Jan. 12, 2019. Fritz, the first F-22 pilot ever to deploy in combat, takes over the group at a critical time in its history with the Air Force Reserve. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. James R. Wilson)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Leadership of the 44th Fighter Group changed hands in a ceremony here Jan. 12, 2019 with a landscape of F-22 Raptor aircraft and the Citizen Airmen who train daily to leverage its state of the art capabilities.

Col. Mitchell Hanson, 301st Fighter Wing Commander, Naval Air Station Ft. Worth, Texas, presided over the ceremony in which Col. Matthew Fritz assumed command of the group from Col. Randall Cason.

Hanson’s remarks focused on the exemplary leadership qualities of both men and their penchant for building resiliency in others, a noteworthy trait given the challenges the unit and its members have faced in recent months.

That adversity is perhaps best exemplified by how the 44th FG and Reservists assigned to the unit responded following the devastation from Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 storm that demolished most of Tyndall Air Force Base and parts of Panama City, Florida.

Fritz inherits the unit at a key point in its history as the Air Force considers options for leveraging its mission and the capabilities of its members going forward.

“I can’t thank you enough for your tenacity, resilience … and your hard work," said Fritz. "This is obviously an incredibly difficult time for all of us. But we will recover from this – I promise. I will do everything in my power to ensure our recovery and focus on our mission. We’ll get through this together and be stronger than we were before.”

The resiliency of both men and their ability to inspire those around them has proven invaluable to moving the 44th FG forward in the midst of ambiguity brought on by the storm’s devastation.

Cason was lauded for his quick response to the hurricane and his ability to coordinate with other bases and outside organizations to get assistance where it was needed most. He garnered resources from Air Force Aid Society, USO, the Airpower Foundation, Yellow Ribbon, Eglin’s Airman and Family Readiness Center and numerous agencies from communities throughout the Emerald Coast.

“Colonel Cason understood the unique situations of each Airman and allowed our members to take care of their personal needs and still successfully execute the mission through telecommuting and flexible work schedules,” said Chief Master Sgt. Christie Corcoran, 44th Fighter Group superintendent. “In our time of crisis and uncertainty, his steadfast leadership comforted and reassured each member that they were valued and their jobs were secure.”

It was nearly two months after the hurricane leveled the base and countless homes in the area before many members of the 44th FG saw one another again. Reservists were operating from Duke Field and later Eglin AFB while staying in hotels, RVs and rental homes while trying to coordinate with contractors for repairs on what was left of their residences.

“The one thing that was most evident was the resiliency of our members and how happy everyone was to be back together and part of this great organization,” said Corcoran.

Fritz, who previously served as a division chief at Air Force Reserve Command Headquarters, Robins AFB, GA., will now carry the mantle and lead the 44th FG through the uncertainty that lies ahead.

Corcoran said the most important thing Fritz can do as a commander is provide support, guidance, and necessary resources so members of the 44th FG can rebuild their lives in Panama City while continuing to provide air superiority for the nation from Eglin AFB.

"I don’t know what the future holds for the 44th Fighter Group or what the mission will look like in the years to come," said Corcoran. "I do know that our pilots, maintainers, medical and administrative personnel are some of the most resilient, professional Airmen I have had the pleasure of working with throughout my career."