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Col Merkel is the Vice Commander of the 128th Air Refueling Wing, Wisconsin Air National Guard in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As Vice Commander he assists the commander in ensuring that mission objectives, policies, and operational directives are effectively executed within the wing. The 128th Air Refueling Wing operates the KC-135 tanker as its primary weapons system, and is home to over 900 personnel authorized in direct support of this global mission.

Col Merkel is from Milwaukee and graduated from Marquette University in 1994 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. He commissioned into the Marine Corps through the Platoon Leaders Course program in 1994 and attended Naval Flight School, earning his wings in July, 1997. Col Merkel flew the F/A-18 Hornet and was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, Calif. He deployed on the USS Stennis aircraft carrier to Iraq in 2000 and to Afghanistan in 2002. He was then assigned to Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron in Yuma, Ariz., and served as a weapons school instructor pilot from 2002 to 2005. In 2006 he transferred to the Marine Corps Reserves where he flew the F-5 as an adversary pilot. In May 2009, Col Merkel transferred to the Wisconsin Air National Guard and joined the 115th Fighter Wing. He completed an F-16 transition course at Luke Air Force Base. As an F-16 pilot he deployed to Keflavik, Iceland; Djibouti, Africa; Kadena Air Base, Okinawa; Lask Air Base, Poland; and Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. He served as the Aerospace Control Alert (ACA) Commander from 2011 to 2013, and Operations Support Squadron (OSS) Commander from 2013 to 2018. In February 2018 he stood up the F-35 Unit Conversion Office for the 115th Fighter Wing in preparation for the wing’s conversion from the F-16 to the F-35. Prior to his current position Col Merkel was the Vice Commander of the 115th Fighter Wing from December 2020 to February 2023.

Colonel Merkel is a command pilot with over 3500 flight hours in the F-16C/D, F/A-18C, F-5, TA-4J, T-2C, and T-34C.