NAS Jacksonville: 'Alive and well and here to stay'

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  • | 12:00 p.m. February 29, 2012
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Photo by Joe Wilhelm Jr. - Capt. Robert "Bob" Sanders is the latest base commanding officer for Naval Air Station Jacksonville, relieving Capt. Jeffrey Maclay Jan. 13. Sanders stands near a picture of Capt. Charles P. Mason, the first commanding offic...
Photo by Joe Wilhelm Jr. - Capt. Robert "Bob" Sanders is the latest base commanding officer for Naval Air Station Jacksonville, relieving Capt. Jeffrey Maclay Jan. 13. Sanders stands near a picture of Capt. Charles P. Mason, the first commanding offic...
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The latest commanding officer at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, who served as a fighter pilot and an instructor at Top Gun, has set his sights on continuing the operations and growth of the Westside base that was commissioned in 1940.

“NAS Jacksonville is alive and well. We’ve got a lot going on,” said Capt. Robert “Bob” Sanders, who assumed the position as commanding officer Jan. 13 after serving as its executive officer for nearly two years.

One of the next milestones for the base is the rollout of the new P-8A Poseidon aircraft and the P-8A Poseidon integrated training center.

“On March 28 we have the rollout of the P-8, which is the replacement to the P-3 Orion, as well as the new P-8 integrated training center ribbon-cutting. I think that starts a new chapter in the growth story for NAS Jax,” said Sanders.

“We are alive and well and here to stay,” said Sanders.

The Navy plans to purchase 117 Boeing 737-based P-8A anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to replace its P-3 Orion fleet.

The first operational flight trainer and weapons tactics trainer, both developed by Boeing in St. Louis, the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division in Orlando and the Naval Aviation Training Systems program office, were delivered and placed in the new P-8A Integrated Training Center at NAS Jacksonville on Dec. 16.

Each simulator will prepare future Poseidon pilots, flight officers and crew to perform in the newest Navy aircraft, expected to transition into service in July.

The operational flight trainer is a full-motion reproduction of the aircraft cockpit, which replicates the visual out-of-window display and cockpit noises.

It simulates the systems, equipment and features, as well as the performance characteristics, for pilot mission-readiness and proficiency.

Together, they form a trainer used for full aircrew mission training and readiness events. As a stand-alone configuration, the weapons tactics trainer is used for weapons and sensor employment and for communications training.

Sanders also talked about his transition from executive officer to commanding officer of the base.

He didn’t envision the path when he first joined the Navy.

“When you are younger you tend to set more near-term goals. I want to get my wings. I want to fly F-14s. I want to command a squadron,” said Sanders.

“When you are younger, you don’t plan out to when you are 50. The goals of getting into a position like this didn’t come until later on in the career. I probably have the best job in the world because the people I work with are just phenomenal,” he said.

When Sanders was told he could have his choice between NAS Lemoore, Calif., or NAS Jacksonville, he decided to take a trip to the East Coast to check out his next possible duty station.

“Nobody knows me. I just came down here with my wife and my youngest and the only person I really talked to was the school liaison officer for my daughter to see the school,” said Sanders.

“We came down here and I could not believe how nice everyone was. They didn’t know I was coming down to be the XO and, eventually, the CO. They just treated me the way they treated everyone else,” he said.

Sanders said he and his wife, Kathy, and their three children loved Jacksonville and that was how he chose to move here.

The promotion was significant for someone who grew up in Boonton, N.J., which had a population of about 10,000 when he was growing up. He now commands an installation that provides a livelihood for about 22,500 people who provide an annual economic impact of about $1.25 billion.

“If you have that mindset, that you are running a business, I believe that is the best way to run it,” said Sanders, a fighter pilot.

“Any organization should operate like this in how you build up a business, how you build up an organization, you have to tap into the people that work for you. You have to empower those people and set the environment for success, and let them do good things,” he said.

Sanders had been executive officer of NAS Jacksonville since June 2010. He became the 44th commanding officer of the master air and industrial base in West Jacksonville along the St. Johns River.

Sanders graduated from Rutgers University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He received his Navy commission through Officer Candidate School in September 1987 and was designated a naval flight officer in January 1989.

Among his service, he served two deployments during Operation Desert Shield and tours flying combat missions in support of Operation Deliberate Guard and in support of Operation Southern Watch.

He also was an instructor at the Navy Fighter Weapons School, known as “Top Gun.”

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