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Colleagues remember former Air National Guard commander

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Air National Guard

Colleagues and fellow service members are remembering the late commander of both Syracuse's and New York state's Air National Guard as a tough, but fair and visionary leader.

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert Knauff (Retired) died Saturday in a glider accident outside of Phoenix, Arizona at the age of 61. He lived in Manlius.

Knauff assumed command of the Syracuse-based 174th Fighter Wing in 1996 and was commander of the 6,000-member New York Air Guard from 2005 until his retirement from the military in 2009, part of a 33 year military career.

Most recently, Knauff was the operations officer of NUAIR, the alliance of defense contractors and universities that successfully lobbied the Federal Aviation Administration to designate upstate New York as a civilian unmanned drone testing site.

Tait Funeral Home in Cazenovia is finalizing funeral arrangements. Knauff is survived by his sister and several nieces and nephews. He was married twice, but both wives died of cancer.

Here is what some members of the Air National Guard and civilians that worked with Knauff are saying about him:

Rob Simpson, President of CenterState CEO and NUAIR:

His death is a true loss for this organization, this community and this country. Personally, I have yet to meet a more dedicated, intelligent and thoughtful individual. His life achievements were many. Most recently, we had the pleasure to work with Bob as he led CEO's successful effort to put Central New York at the forefront of our nation's next generation of flight with Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR). Under his leadership, NUAIR received one of received one of just six FAA Test Site designations for UAVs in the country; an achievement that is creating new investment and jobs for the community. His contributions to our region will live on for generations.

Larry Brinker, NUAIR general counsel:

You really can't measure the worth of General Knauff in just regular terms. It's rare in your lifetime that you come across the real deal. General Knauff is a true American hero. He was devoted to his community and my life is blessed for knowing him for even a short amount of time.

Col. John Balbierer, Vice Commander of the 174th Attack Wing:

He was always a tough, but fair commander. He cared very deeply for his people. He assumed a very command-like presence. You always knew when you were talking to him, he always presented that command presence. He treated everyone the same, no matter what rank you were, no matter what position you had out here at the base. He was a very talented and very loved person.

Maj. Gen. Patrick Murphy, Commander of the New York Air National Guard:

Our entire military family extends our deepest sympathies on the loss of this great Air Force leader and friend. Bob Knauff stayed active in his support of Soldiers and Airmen even in his retirement years and our National Guard has lost a tremendous leader and supporter.