179th Airlift Wing Airman Offered Acceptance to Air Force Academy

Senior Airman Alivia Merkel, a dental technician at the 179th Airlift Wing, stands outside wing headquarters holding her letter of acceptance to the Air Force Academy at the 179th Airlft Wing in Mansfield, Ohio, June 23, 2021. After three years of service at the 179th Airlift Wing, Merkel has been offered an opportunity to further her education while commissioning in the World’s Greatest Air Force. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman First Class Grace Riegel)

Senior Airman Alivia Merkel, a dental technician at the 179th Airlift Wing, stands outside wing headquarters holding her letter of acceptance to the Air Force Academy at the 179th Airlft Wing in Mansfield, Ohio, June 23, 2021. After three years of service at the 179th Airlift Wing, Merkel has been offered an opportunity to further her education while commissioning in the World’s Greatest Air Force. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman First Class Grace Riegel)

MANSFIELD, OH -- Senior Airman Alivia Merkel, a dental technician at the 179th Airlift Wing, has been accepted into the Air Force Academy, located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, after three years of service at the 179th Airlift Wing.

Merkel knew that she wanted to join the military since grade school. On career day a peer’s mother brought in pictures from a deployment to show the students what military life looks like.

“I remember sitting there in the classroom thinking she is so cool,” said Merkel. “I wanted to be like her, and that is where it all started”

Merkel knew her goal was to grow up and serve in the United States Military, but she did not know that her decision to enlist in the Air National Guard would lead to her acceptance into the highly selective Air Force Academy. With an acceptance rate of 11.1% being accepted into the academy is quite an accomplishment.

During her senior year of high school Merkel began to formulate her plan of action. Merkel’s father suggested exploring opportunities in the Air National Guard, here at the 179th Airlift Wing. The Merkel family knew multiple members of the unit that have spoken highly of their time here.

“I swam with some people in high school that had gone into the guard and they loved it,” said Merkel.

After being told of the opportunities in the Air National Guard to serve in the military and receive college tuition while staying close to home Merkel signed her enlistment contract with public health here at the 179th before graduating high school.

It was known around the clinic that Merkel enjoyed basic training and technical school and had wanted to go active duty. Merkel said that her leadership took notice of her love of military structure and dedication to service. Shortly after returning to the clinic after training, Merkel was tasked with running the Public Health Shop as an Airman First Class.

“I was running the public health shop as an airman and then as an airman first class, which is pretty unheard of,” said Merkel. “I was overwhelmed but it was a whole new job for someone so young and that helped me build confidence.”

“I had my shop supervisors and the other airman in my shop helping me along. I was the youngest out of everybody. I was practically straight out of high school. I had never really had a job before except for lifeguarding in the summertime,” said Merkel. “But my leadership pulled me aside when I was overwhelmed and told me that they know I can do this and that they see me trying and doing an excellent job and that just really helped me.”

“When I came here my Public Health Officer Lt. Col. Kao asked why I didn't apply to the academy,” said Merkel.“I had thought about the academy in high school but I didn't ever think that I would be able to go because I wasn’t that 4.0 student and I wasn't in National Honor Society and I didn’t have a bunch of extra curricular activities to back me up. So I dismissed the idea.”

Merkel said that Lt. Col. Kao reminded her how much she enjoyed military training and told her that she is a good fit for the academy.

“That is really what got the ball rolling,” said Merkel. “He helped me gain the confidence to apply and even just start to think about attending the academy.”

To apply for a spot in the Air Force Academy a long checklist must be completed. Merkel needed recommendation letters from 3 people, one was from a retired chief, one from her high school swim coach, as well as her unit and wing commander. Wing leadership was aware of Merkel's desire to go to the academy and supported her by encouraging her to apply and signing off on her application. Merkel retook the ACT, a standardized test to determine college readiness, and improved her scores from high school. The application required a medical evaluation, virtual interview, and a physical training test, including sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, a basketball throw, a mile run, and a shuttle run.

When Merkel decided to apply she was set to leave for another training opportunity the same month the application was due. The time crunch for such a hefty application put a lot of pressure on Merkel, at times she doubted if all her hard work would pay off.

“My mom sat beside me and said you have to do this,” said Merkel. “If you don’t submit this application you will always wonder what could have happened.”

“It feels really good because I definitely would have wondered what would have happened, I think I would have regretted not applying,” said Merkel. “Be confident and just try, you never know what could happen. Your personality and what you accomplish says more about you than your grades. If I would have based my career and my goals just off of my grades and my ACT score I wouldn’t be where I am today”

Airman First Class Alivia Merkel received her acceptance letter two months after completing her application, and will be moving into the academy before the end of summer. Merkel plans to attend the academy for five years, after graduating she will serve five years in active duty. There is no tuition cost to attend the academy and students will be paid to attend class, as well as receiving room and board and the opportunity to graduate from one of the nation’s top academic institutions leaving the academy as Air Force officers. Merkel says if she could offer one piece of advice to anyone it would be “just go for it.”

“I wouldn’t change my path,” said Merkel. “If not for going into the guard, being able to mature and being around the mentors that I got from joining the guard, I wouldn't be where I am. I feel like a totally different person coming into the guard at 17, now at 21 I am prepared for the academy.”

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