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VTANG Bids Farewell to Operations Group Commander

Col. Nathan "Wiz" Graber, previous commander of the 158th Operations Group, 158th Fighter Wing, flies by in an F-35A Lightning II during his final flight as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

Col. Nathan "Wiz" Graber, previous commander of the 158th Operations Group, 158th Fighter Wing, flies by in an F-35A Lightning II during his final flight as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, at the Vermont Air National Guard Base, South Burlington, Vermont, Dec. 9, 2021. Graber, who relinquished command of the operations group to Lt. Col. Michael Blair on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, is slated to retire after 26 years of service in March of 2022. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Michael Davis)

Vermont Air National Guard --

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. – After 26 years of service, Col. Nathan Graber, 158th Operations Group commander, is slated to retire March 1, 2022.

Though his official retirement is still months away, Graber will begin terminal leave and depart December 11. His 26 year career began as an Air Force Academy graduate in 1995.

“I graduated from the Air Force Academy in May of 1995,” said Graber. “I was an F-16 pilot on active duty for close to 15 years. In that time, I was stationed at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea, Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, Aviano Air Base in Italy and I completed an exchange tour with the Dutch air force.”

With a young son, and a desire for a more predictable homelife, Graber and his wife decided to make a change.

“Once my wife and I had our son, we knew we wanted to be in a place where we were home more at night and not worried about moving every few years,” said Graber. “A good friend of mine from the Air Force Academy was the operations group commander here. My wife and I visited Vermont while I was still on active duty and we knew right away this was where we wanted to be. At the time, they were building an F-16 simulator and I was hired to be a simulator instructor in 2009.”

During his time with the 158th Fighter Wing, Graber was heavily involved in the transition from an F-16 Fighting Falcon unit to the Air National Guard’s only F-35 wing.

“I worked in the program integration office which was involved in the transition from the F-16 to F-35 mission and was selected to be the operations group commander,” said Graber. “It was perfect for me because I had the background for how we planned to do our training, not just for ops, but for maintenance and mission support as well. The timeline for my retirement makes sense. I oversaw the conversion and now it needs to go into the hands of someone who will take it to the next level.”

While Graber will hang up his military flight suit, he will don a Delta Airlines uniform and continue his passion for flying.

“We’re moving out to Utah where I’ll fly for Delta Airlines,” said Graber. “It’s going to be a different kind of flying, but I like interacting with people and it’s a big responsibility to have 150 passengers, who are someone’s family member. I’m really looking forward it.”

Graber’s leadership appreciates the significant impact he’s had on the mission and his subordinates and wish him well in his future endeavors.

“Col. Graber has been an integral member of our Green Mountain Boy team and family for more than a decade,” said Col. David Shevchik, 158th Fighter Wing commander. “He’s served in many key roles ensuring the historic and successful mission conversion from F-16 to F-35. As the Operations Group Commander, Col. Graber’s steady, mission-focused leadership was critical to our transformation to a combat ready, F-35 Fighter Wing. He will always have a home here, and we wish he and his family the best in their next adventure.”

For Graber, the end of a sterling career is bittersweet. Though he’ll miss his green mountain family, he cherishes the opportunities he’s been afforded.

“To say my career has exceeded all my expectations is an understatement,” said Graber. “It has been an honor and privilege to hold this command. It’s amazing to be the first F-35 unit in the Air Guard and see how well we’ve executed that transition. I could not be prouder of everyone who’s been a part of that process. Being the operations group commander here, and being a part of this team, has really been the proudest part of my career.”