A Lifetime in 20 Years
By Staff Sgt. Ashley L. Gardner, 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 10, 2021
JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. -- There are currently members in the Air Force that have joined the military as a result of 9/11. One of those is Master Sgt. Matthew Merryman, 9th Intelligence Squadron, flight chief, with the 548th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group at Beale Air Force Base, California.
Merryman, who was 23-years old at the time, was working as a ramp lead at an airport. He had been married for two years to his wife, Lyndsey, and they had two very young children, when they heard about the attacks.
“With the attacks being so close to [the birth of my two week old daughter] and being intimately familiar with the types of aircrafts that struck the towers, Pentagon and crashed in Pennsylvania because of my current line of work is why this event stands out so memorable to my mind even to this day,” said Merryman. “I remember more about that day than my daughter's birth because of how strongly it is burnt in [my mind].”
Over the next few days, things calmed down at his job, but the problem was that it calmed down to an absolute standstill regarding flights. Within a week, Merryman went from working a full time 40-hour week with almost guaranteed overtime to barely getting 32 hours a week as one of the last people who had just earned seniority status.
Desperately trying to figure out how to support his family, he mentioned joining the military to his wife.
“I remember remarking about a week or two after the attack,” said Merryman. “Maybe I'll just join the military since I'm sure they are looking for people right now.”
His wife responded with ‘why not’?
A little surprised by her response, Merryman responded with well ‘I don't know’.
“That is when I started to think about my family history and some brief experiences with the Air Force,” he said.
His mom worked as a civilian in the Airman and Family Readiness Center as well as the Education center, while his cousin was a crew chief on the F-117 Nighthawk.
“I remember getting a personal tour from him with my family to see it up-close and that had always left an impression on me,” Merryman said.
Lastly, his grandfather who had fought in World War II as a B-17 Flying Fortress co-pilot and bombardier in the U.S. Army-Air Corps, then later after the war returned to service with the Air Force on the enlisted side.
“He never spoke of his time with us, but my dad remembers running around the bases and knowing his dad was kind of a big deal,” said Merryman. “We didn't really find out how big of a deal until after he died in 2004.”
It was those encounters with the Air Force that led him to think if he joined any service, it would be the Air Force.
His initial ‘I don't know,’ turned into an exploratory visit with a recruiter about two weeks later, which turned into a family conversation and was followed up by a trip to the Military Entrance Processing Station in Salt Lake City to retake his Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery allowing him to join in October 2001.
After his training was complete, Merryman officially got to his assignment to Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. as an F-16 Fighting Falcon crew chief.
“I thought it would be easy to translate my baggage-loading job at the airport into aircraft maintenance,” he said. “That was a bit of a misstep on my part since I am not mechanically inclined outside of the basics of hammer, nails and screwdrivers.”
With countless assignments and deployments including joining the Air Force Honor Guard Merryman found his way to the intelligence community.
“I have seen the career field evolve over time and have a hand in literally shaping the career field through my first intel assignment at Offutt AFB [Nebraska],” said Merryman. “I literally got to raise my hand as a Chief Master Sergeant equivalent in deciding the Air Forces Specialty Codes next training tasks and again shaped the career field about four years later when 80 percent of my data call contributions were accepted.”
Additionally, Merryman has helped evolve the Defense Ground System from a Processing Exploitation Dissemination factory in its days starting back at 9/11 into becoming an analytic supercenter that has been virtual untapped these last 20 years. He has worked with 4-star generals to the youngest Airmen currently in the Air Force and seized the opportunity to learn from them all.
“The thing about Master Sgt. Merryman that I adore is his motivation and passion for training Airmen,” said Chief Master Sgt. Julia Cheney, 9th IS, senior enlisted leader. “He has been the perfect person to lead our small training team, and has exceeded any expectations we initially had. He has led a highly successful team that is 100 percent committed to improving our squadron processes and Airmen.”
Merryman credits the Air Force for his personal and professional growth.
“These last 20 years, I've gained confidence, strength, and experience that no civilian job could have ever taught me and brought me experiences and interactions that most only dream of,” Merryman said. “If it were not for the events of 9/11 I'm not really sure where I would be after these last 20 years, but I am hopeful as I end my defense of this nations external boarders that I can play a stabilizing role inside them and have my children do the same by the example I showed them through service in this United States Air Force.”