Major continues family's service tradition

  • Published
  • By Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Porter
  • U.S. Forces Afghanistan
People join the military for any number of reasons. For Maj. Mark Melin, the son of a soldier, grandson of a World War II sailor and the third of three military brothers, commissioning in the Air Force was like joining the family business.

"It was definitely my father's example of service as a Vietnam vet, scoutmaster and community leader that led me to join the military," said Melin, assigned to New Kabul Compound here. "He was always doing something for someone else, and my mother was the same way."

Following graduation from high school in Livingston, Mont., Melin earned appointments to all three military academies, but chose to follow his brother, Jess, to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.

"He had a car, I did not," he explained. "It was an easy choice for a 19-year-old looking to get rides home at Christmas and spring break."

Mark entered the academy in 1996. Though Jess had enrolled in 1992, he resigned after two years to serve a church mission in Chile. He returned to school in 1996, so his last two years as a cadet were Mark's first two.

"It was great to be at [the academy] with my brother," Mark said. "He provided some insights and mentorship, and because of his experience, I knew a little bit more than the other guys of what I was getting into."

"We had little interaction during the week due to the pace of life for all cadets," Jess said. "We were able to hang out and go to church on weekends. What I did enjoy, and now miss, are the road trips back to Montana together."

The 12-hour drives home were a chance for the brothers to talk and laugh, and to enjoy their shared experiences. Occasionally, it also included some adventure.

"I remember one winter we were driving back home and couldn't wait to get there," Jess recalled. "The last 150 miles of the drive were in a blinding blizzard in the dark. I was driving and couldn't see anything. Mark rolled down his window, stuck his head into the blizzard and started looking for the reflectors that [marked] the side of the road.

"We finished the last half hour of the drive with Mark hanging out the window and telling me to go left or right to keep us on the interstate," he continued. "When we did finally arrive, our mom couldn't believe it. She told us that the whole interstate had been shut down for hours."

Mark also left school to serve a church mission in St. Petersburg, Russia. He returned to the academy in 2000 and graduated with the class of 2002. He then followed Jess to Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, for pilot training.

Though he hadn't been interested in flying, he said, he was told over and over again that he had to try it.

"I'm glad I did," he said, "because I learned to love it. In addition to aerobatics or formation flying, just doing a little cloud chasing is perhaps the most fun thing I've done in the air.

"Flying is also a challenge," he added. "Something new pops up on every sortie, and you have to be flexible to handle systems malfunctions, weather, emergency procedures, or even a crew member who is not performing up to par that day.

"Every landing is a contest with yourself, and every takeoff is a new adventure," he said.

Melin remained in the cockpit for much of his career, serving as an aircraft commander at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., an instructor pilot at Laughlin and during two deployments. He also has served as squadron executive officer and assistant operations officer.

He arrived in Afghanistan around the start of the year. Though he deployed twice before as a KC-10 pilot, this is his first "ground" deployment.

"This is a whole new experience," he said, "especially as it is a joint assignment with other services."

From the moment he arrived in Afghanistan and had to put on body armor and a helmet for the ride to New Kabul Compound, Melin said, he knew this deployment would be different. It's been an educational assignment, he added, and he's learned to enjoy "flying a desk."

"I've learned that a whole lot goes into a campaign -- not just the air superiority piece," said Melin, who is working in the U.S. Forces Afghanistan command information group. "I've learned how hard the other services work as well, and that each has a specific skill set, and that we really depend on each other."

Melin is now looking forward to taking leave in Del Rio, Texas, this summer and seeing his wife, Elana, and their four children: Liana, 8; Sariah, 6; Jared, 4; and Samantha, 2. When he returns to New Kabul Compound, he said, it will be back to work and finishing his tour. He said he's hoping for a follow-on assignment closer to Montana.

After he retires, Melin said, he isn't sure if any of his children will continue the family tradition by joining the military. Elana said their father's absence may have convinced them to look at other options.

"So far, only our son has said that he wants to be just like daddy when he grows up," she said. "He told me he wants to fly airplanes. But he asked if that meant he would have to deploy. When I told him 'Yes,' He didn't seem as fond of the idea."