Family Business:111th ATKW promotes its newest Chief

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Wilfredo Acosta
  • 111th Attack Wing

Before the 111th Attack Wing’s newest chief master sergeant ever donned an Air Force uniform, he was one of three boys shadowing his father on drill weekends with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s 103rd Engineer Battalion at Fort Mifflin, Philadelphia.

Recently, Chief Master Sgt. James V. Mehlberger Jr., reunited with his father to attend another drill weekend; this time to participate in the ceremony promoting the 111th ATKW Vehicle Fleet Manager to his current rank at Biddle Air National Guard Base in Horsham, Pennsylvania, Feb. 6, 2022.

Mehlberger, a native of Biglerville, Pennsylvania, by way of Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, described the impact his father’s service in the Army, and the Pennsylvania National Guard, had on his Air Force career.

“My parents were divorced when I was 11, or 12,” said Mehlberger. “And, my dad raised three boys. With no baby sitter, he would often take us to the post on drill weekends, and sometimes during the week.”  

Mehlberger said he and his brothers grew up surrounded by a combination of his father’s family and military friends. Listening to soldiers tell stories and watching them interact influenced Mehlberger’s career choice.

“I wanted to enlist at a young age because of this exposure to the joy and camaraderie they seemed to share,” said Mehlberger, who even learned how to drive on an old Army Willys Jeep and other military transport vehicles.  “When I was ready to enlist, it was my dad who talked me out of going in the Army, and into joining the Air Force.”

Mehlberger’s father, who retired with a total of 25 years of service as a heavy wheeled vehicle and tracked vehicle maintainer, didn’t just want his son to join the Air Force. He wanted him to pick up an Air Force Specialty Code, or AFSC, he could use in the civilian world.

“My father encouraged me to do something in the military that would translate to the outside,” said Mehlberger. “I insisted on doing something specific to the Air Force, like work on jets. My thinking was if I was joining the Air Force, I wanted to be around aircraft.”

Mehlberger said he had already attended a trade school as a mechanic, and was working in a garage when he enlisted.  During his career, he eventually earned a degree in Computer Science with a major in Network Engineering. 

“As my career progressed, I had to change AFSCs and adapt to stay close to home,” said Mehlberger. “After 16 years in the Air Guard, being a technician on and off, I ended up going into vehicle maintenance and being a mechanic like my dad was anyway.”

Sometimes, father knows best. As Mehlberger approaches the milestone of 23 total years of service with the Air National Guard in March of 2022, that certainly seems to be the case.

During his career, Mehlberger deployed four times to the Middle East. As a result, Mehlberger said that his promotions to master sergeant and chief were his only two formal promotion ceremonies. It was only fitting his father was there to attend both.

Mehlberger said the promotion was a humbling experience that also came with an element of surprise.
 “Holy cow, I am a Chief,” said Mehlberger.  “For me to achieve this rank, I must have already held some of the qualities of a senior enlisted leader. Now, I have to ensure I step it up, and to actually be a Chief.”

It’s this attitude that has earned Mehlberger the respect of his peers and his troops, many of whom voiced their support before, during, and after the promotion ceremony.

Chief Master Sgt. John Heidrick, the senior enlisted leader for 201st RED HORSE Detachment 1, not only narrated the promotion ceremony, he also gave his take on why Mehlberger deserved the rank. 

“You don’t just become a Chief when you get the rank,” said Heidrick. “You’re a Chief way before you get the rank. Chief Mehlberger has been doing Chief duties, and he’s been taking care of his people way before he ever thought about getting the promotion. The promotion is like an afterthought because he has already been doing the roles and responsibilities of a Chief.”

Moving up in rank is something Mehlberger never gave much thought to as a young Airman. But once again, an experience he had with his father helped changed his point of view.

“I recall going hunting at the beginning of in my career, and the cabin was owned by a Chief, a friend of my dad’s,” said Mehlberger. “I remember telling him one day, I’d like to be a Chief, that is my goal.  There have been a bunch of ups and downs in my military career, and for a time I never thought I would get past technical sergeant.  My family, friends, and mentors in the military encouraged me to go farther, keep trying.”

During the ceremony, Mehlberger thanked everyone from his military mentors to his family and friends. He credited his father for raising him tough and keeping him sharp and motivated. He thanked his wife for being his partner and voice of reason while displaying a resolve and work ethic as a military spouse that proved she was like “a piece if steel” while taking care of the family each time he was deployed.

As the son of a soldier, Mehlberger had tagged along with his father to many drill weekends. Now, he was a father himself. He had his children with him on a drill weekend. And, they were there to watch him pin on the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force.

So, it made sense when Mehlberger’s voice swelled with emotion and he took a noticeable pause as he thanked his children at the end of his speech.

“I’ve missed dances and singing competitions” said Mehlberger. “But they continued to support me. And, I hope they’re proud of me … Because I’m proud of them.”