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158th Fighter Wing Welcomes Milestone 1,000th Member

Maj. Meghan Smith, chief of public affairs for the 158th Fighter Wing, Vermont Air National Guard, conducts the oath of enlistment for Tech. Sgt. Richard Mekkri.

Maj. Meghan Smith, chief of public affairs for the 158th Fighter Wing, Vermont Air National Guard, conducts the oath of enlistment for Tech. Sgt. Richard Mekkri, Vermont Air National Guard Base, South Burlington, Vt., Nov. 7, 2020. With the enlistment of Mekkri, transferring from the Air Force Reserves, the wing reaches 1,000 members for the first time in several years since it began converting from the F-16 to the F-35A Lightning II. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Ryan Campbell)

Vermont Air National Guard --

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt., (Nov. 10, 2020) -- During November drill, the 158th Fighter Wing, Vermont Air National Guard, welcomed their milestone one-thousandth member by administering the enlistment oath to Tech. Sgt. Richard Mekkri. With the enlistment of Mekkri, who transferred from the Air Force Reserves, the 158th FW has reached 1,000 members for the first time since it began converting from the F-16 Fighting Falcon to the F-35A Lightning II.

“For years, we all understand we need to make our own, we need to keep our own. This is an example of the trajectory of this organization. We haven’t had a thousand members for a very long time. By hitting this milestone, this indicates we’re on the right track,” said Army Maj. Gen. Gregory Knight, the adjutant general of Vermont.

In terms of end strength, the 158th FW's goal is for 80 percent of all operational squadrons to reach a “C1” rating, meaning the unit can complete most or all of its wartime mission by the start of fiscal year 2021. Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis had tasked the services with a 80-percent Mission Capable (MC) Rate initiative for fiscal year 2019, which included the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-22 Raptor, F/A-18 Hornet, and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter fleets, which the 158th Fighter Wing flies. The Air Force has since returned to allowing Lead Commands to determine the required MC rates to meet readiness objectives. With this in mind, the 158th Fighter Wing continues to maintain the standard of 80-percent manpower as their “C1” rating.

"End Strength, or manpower, plays a vital role in our readiness capacity and capability. Our wing mission mantra is to be “C1" by ‘21, meaning to have the highest readiness rating (C1) by December 31, 2021 – the date our unit exits its conversion status. In order to maximize our mission readiness, we need talented professionals like Tech. Sgt. Mekkri in all career fields, whether homegrown in the Vermont Guard, or transferred from another unit, service or organization," said Col. David Shevchik Jr., wing commander, 158th Fighter Wing. 

Meeting the "C1" rating ensures the 158th Fighter Wing meets the combat capability requirements of its federal mission when called upon, while also continuing to serve the state and communities during the ongoing pandemic.   

“A thousand is a bigger number. We had a goal set in mind that seemed so far out, but it sets that much hope that at a thousand we’re within striking distance of our end goal to be “C1” by ‘21. That’s what a thousand is, it’s a milestone. It’s been something we’ve been striving for, for a while,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jeffrey Stebbins, command chief of the 158th Fighter Wing.

With Mekkri joining as the one-thousandth member, the 158th FW continues to pace towards this future readiness goal.

“Just to join the VTANG was exciting enough but then to find out I was the thousandth member to enlist? What a privilege. I’m glad to know that I can be a small part of an overall larger goal the wing has been trying to attain. I’m glad to be part of such a welcoming and open team and excited to put my skills to use once again,” reflected Mekkri.

As for the newest Green Mountain Boy, Mekkri originally enlisted in 2008 into medical at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, Niagara Falls, NY, before converting to Public Affairs (PA) in 2015. From 2018 to 2020, Mekkri was a combat camera specialist at Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina, prior to rejoining PA this November, making him uniquely dual qualified in both photojournalism and broadcast journalism.

“I was eager to join a PA team again. I really missed telling the Air Force story and connecting with Airmen to tell their stories. When I learned of the Public Affairs position with the 158th FW PA team, I couldn’t at least not visit. I grew up in the Adirondack Mountains of New York and I’ve always loved traveling to Vermont. The prospect of relocating closer to home and to be part of such an historic wing was too good an opportunity to turn down,” said Mekkri.

Looking ahead, the 158th Fighter Wing continues to focus on overall end strength, both current and future, while continuing to tell their story through their Airmen:

“We don’t want to chase a number, we want to make sure we are C1 by ‘21. That’s our next big goal. If we continue our momentum with it, our recruiting staff, telling our story through our Airmen, that will be attainable,” concluded Stebbins.