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Ops group commander in charge of pilot training at Columbus AFB fired

The commander of an operations group that handles specialized pilot training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi was removed from his position last week.

Col. Derek Stuart, who had commanded the 14th Operations Group, was fired Jan. 2 by 19th Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Craig Wills “due to a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to command,” Air Education and Training Command said in an email Tuesday.

AETC spokeswoman Marilyn Holliday said in the email that Lt. Col. William McElhinney has assumed command of the group.

The 14th Operations Group is the flying component of the 14th Flying Training Wing at Columbus. Its members are part of nine squadrons, and are responsible for the 52-week specialized undergraduate pilot training mission at Columbus, Holliday said. The group also performs quality assurance for contract aircraft maintenance.

Columbus is one of three bases that conduct specialized undergraduate pilot training, alongside Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas and Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma.

Col. Derek Stuart, shown here as a lieutenant colonel in command of the 733rd Air Mobility Squadron at Kadena Air Base in Japan in 2013, was removed from command of the 14th Operations Group at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi on Jan. 2. (A1C Hailey Davis/Air Force)
Col. Derek Stuart, shown here as a lieutenant colonel in command of the 733rd Air Mobility Squadron at Kadena Air Base in Japan in 2013, was removed from command of the 14th Operations Group at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi on Jan. 2. (A1C Hailey Davis/Air Force)

After the academic and primary flying phases of specialized pilot training, during which student pilots learn basic flying fundamentals, they are selected for one of three advanced training tracks: Airlift and tankers, fighters, or bombers. Aspiring airlift and tanker pilots go on to train in the T-1 Jayhawk, and students slated for fighter or bomber assignments train in the T-38 Talon.

Stuart had been commander of the operations group since July 2018. He entered the Air Force in 1996, according to his official biography, and is a command pilot with more than 3,200 hours flying the C-17, C-141, T-6 and T-37. He has served as an instructor pilot and flown combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Holliday said Stuart was not under investigation. She did not respond to a request for comment from Stuart, or say what caused Wills to lose confidence in Stuart.

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