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Vermont Guard's 158th Fighter Wing welcomes 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, Vermont Air National Guard Base, South Burlington, Vt., Nov. 7, 2020. With the enlistment of Mekkri, transferring from the Air Force Reserves, the wing reached 1,000 members for the first time in several years since it began converting from the F-16 to the F-35A Lightning II.

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 reached 1,000 members for the first time in several years since it began converting from the F-16 to the F-35A Lightning II.

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. – The Vermont Air National Guard's 158th Fighter Wing welcomed its milestone 1,000th member during November drill.

With the enlistment of Tech. Sgt. Richard 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% 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 charged the services with a 80% 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% manpower as their "C1" rating.

"A thousand is a bigger number," said Chief Master Sgt. Jeffrey Stebbins, command chief of the 158th Fighter Wing. "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."

With Mekkri joining as the 1,000th member, the 158th FW continues toward this readiness goal.

"Just to join the VTANG was exciting enough, but then to find out I was the 1,000th 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," said Mekkri.

The newest Green Mountain Boy enlisted in 2008 into medical at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station in New York before converting to public affairs (PA) in 2015. From 2018 to 2020, Mekkri was a combat camera at Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina before rejoining PA this November, making him qualified in photojournalism and broadcast journalism.

"I was eager to join a PA team again," he said. "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 Fighter Wing 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."

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