Cover photo for Robert W. "Colonel" Sanders's Obituary
Robert W. "Colonel" Sanders Profile Photo
1964 Robert 2022

Robert W. "Colonel" Sanders

September 9, 1964 — May 18, 2022

It is with much sadness that we announce Robert W. “Colonel” Sanders has passed away peacefully with his wife by his side on May 18th, 2022, after an aggressive, much too short, battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 57 years old. CAPT Robert Sanders USN (Ret) was the son of Rita Pepper and the late Richard W. Sanders. He was the beloved husband of Kathy and the treasured father of Micalla, TJ, and Alexa. Additionally, he was the grandfather to four adorable grandchildren. He is also survived by his sister Patricia and sisters-in-law Elaine and Colleen. Rob was born in Thornbury, England on September 9th, 1964, moved to the United States with his parents in 1967, and established roots in Boonton, NJ. He attended Boonton High School and graduated in 1982. During his high school years, he met Ms. Kathy Rafferty and they became inseparable. Both Rob and Kathy continued their education at Rutgers University. Rob graduated in 1986 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering and subsequently worked as an engineer. He and Kathy set out on life’s journey as they were married in September 1987. Rob then joined the US Navy, received his commission through Aviation Officer Candidate School, and was designated a Naval Flight Officer in January 1989. Throughout his 30-year US Navy career, Rob served and flew in numerous F-14 Tomcat and F/A-18 Hornet squadrons to include VF-101, VF-31, and VF-143, where he was the recipient of the VADM William P. Lawrence Leadership Award. Rob was then selected as an Instructor/Readiness Officer at Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) where he eventually served as the Executive Officer. He then commanded VFA-154, an F/A-18 Super Hornet squadron tasked with flying combat missions in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, and IRAQI FREEDOM. Rob has logged nearly 4000 flight hours and 1000 arrested carrier landings. After a successful combat tour, Rob earned an M.S. in National Security Strategy and subsequently reported to the Pentagon to support the Joint Chiefs of Staff, J5 Strategic Planning Division. He then commanded the nation’s third largest installation, Naval Air Station Jacksonville, FL. While in command, the base received the Commander in Chief's Annual Award for Installation Excellence. Rob’s Navy career culminated onboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) as Carrier Strike Group Chief-of-Staff. Rob’s unrelenting 30-year commitment to excellence bestowed a myriad of personal awards to include the Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal (three strike/flight), Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (four awards), Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (two awards), as well as numerous unit, campaign, and service awards. Post-retirement, Rob returned to Naval Air Station Jacksonville and joined VyStar Credit Union in November 2018 as Branch Vice President and Military Liaison. Rob served on the Greater Jacksonville USO Board as Vice-Chairman and chaired the Clay County Chamber Military Appreciation Luncheon Committee. Rob was passionate about seeing every National Park, oftentimes embarking on meticulously planned cross country trips to visit as many as possible. You could catch him on almost every long weekend camping with friends, most of whom he considered family. That big tough Navy Commander that you just heard so much about? Well, Disney trips with his grandchildren were kind of his favorite thing. But what really drove him was his love for a good soft pretzel and a cold beer. Rob had many hobbies throughout his life that brought him joy. He spent years restoring a 1969 Mustang, and many weekends were spent performing what he dubbed as “routine maintenance” so it could remain drivable. Training for marathons, playing golf, and, recently, making additions to his O gauge train set were all things he liked to do in his spare time. He was a big softie with a generous nature who loved the Beatles and had a knack for one-liners. So, in the wise words of Bob “Colonel” Sanders, “Your goal in life is to leave a room and never have people say ‘Wow, what an asshole.’” Congratulations Rob, as the overachiever you always were, you have far surpassed your goal. A celebration of life will be held at Mulligan’s on NAS Jacksonville on Saturday, June 11th at 2 PM. Friends and family are all welcome to come and have a cold beer in his honor. He will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery later this year.
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Service Schedule

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Celebration of Life

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Starts at 2:00 pm (Eastern time)

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