Wing says good-bye to Commander

  • Published
  • By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ryan Green
  • 349th Air Mobility

Air Reserve members, family and friends celebrate Col. Lee E. Merkle as he prepares to depart his role as commander of the 349th Air Mobility Wing at Travis Air Forces Base, Calif., during his final commander’s call, Aug. 6, 2023.

This last drill weekend was the close of an important chapter for Col. Merkle career, who began his U.S. Air Force career at Travis AFB as a jet engine mechanic with the 349th Field Maintenance Squadron in 1986. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Aviation Operations from San Jose State University, Col. Merkle received a commission in 1995 and graduated from Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training at Reese Air Force Base, Texas in 1997. Following this period, Col. Merkle’s Air Force journey took him to military bases across the United States, as well as deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Col. Merkle’s journey came full circle when he took on the position of Commander for the 349th Air Mobility Wing at Travis AFB in June 2020.

“Col. Merkle’s transformational leadership is precisely what we needed during such challenging times,” said Israel Pinero, 349th Wing Staff Agency Wing Executive Officer. “Being charged with leading us through the turbulence of the pandemic, wildfires that threatened the installation and the more recent non-combatant evacuation during Operation Allies Refuge is a testament of his steadfast leadership and courage to fight for what was best for the organization and its members.”

While serving as the 349th AMW commander, Col. Merkle led the largest Reserve Associate Wing in the Air Force, which provides combat-ready crews and support for the C-17 Globemaster III, C-5 Galaxy, and KC-10 Extender aircraft. The wing offers expeditionary support to the warfighter in all aspects of air base security and operations, as well as medical care and patient transportation worldwide.

“Col. Merkle’s management capabilities of our many aircraft and missions speak for themselves,” said Col. Terence McGee, current 349th AMW Deputy Commander. “His understanding of air mobility and strategic airlift mission requirements was the backbone of his management successes and a key component for many successful operations.”

Although in charge of everything from aircraft operations to financial management, Col Merkle consistently prioritized the most important resource at the wing – its people. 

“Col. Merkle is a true leader that exhibits servant-leadership at its core,” said Chief Master Sgt. Howard P. Dixon Jr., Senior Enlisted Leader of the 349th Medical Group. “He is sensitive to the needs of the Airmen but firm to the adherence of the mission and would never ask an airman to do something that he would not do himself. “

The members of the 349th will miss Col. Merkle but are grateful for their time to serve with such an exemplary commander.
“Seeing Col. Merkle depart for another assignment is bittersweet,” said Col. McGee. “His dedication and love of the 349 AMW and its Airmen will be sorely missed, but his move to Headquarters 4th Air Force will be an asset for all wings.  I’m excited to have an “insider” at our Headquarters that’ll hear and relate 349 AMW’s specific needs to senior leaders while applying the same dedication we’ve come to rely on to other wing’s needs.  He’s a rising tide that’ll lift all boats.

Col. Merkel will leave Travis to assume the role of Director of Staff for the 4th Air Force at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., on Aug. 13.  Col. Terence McGee, 349th AMW deputy commander will serve as the acting commander until a new commander is named.