Col Merkel is the commander of the 128th Air Refueling Wing, General Mitchell Air National Guard Base, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is responsible for more than 900 personnel assiged to the wing who support the worldwide mission and enable the combat employment of ten KC-135R Stratotankers. His command comprises four groups and a wing headquarters, providing ready and responsive airmen to meet state and national mission taskings.

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; KadenaAir 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 he served as Deputy Commander of the 115th Fighter Wing from December 2020 to February 2023, and Deputy Commander of the 128th Air Refueling Wing from February 2023 to February 2024.

Col Merkel is a command pilot with over 3600 flight hours in the KC-135R, F-16C/D, F/A-18C, F-5, TA-4J, T-2C, and T-34C.