Mueller's penchant for 'yes' leads to eventful 25-year career

  • Published
  • By John Ingle
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Opportunities for Airmen are bountiful in the Air Force, and it often comes down to one tiny, three-letter word that will reveal those possibilities — yes.

Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Mueller, the former command chief master sergeant of the 80th Flying Training Wing and Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program here, said he never envisioned a career in military service when he joined in 1997 as a 22-year-old from Champaign, Illinois. But the mentorship and sage advice from gruff, older NCOs throughout his career put him in positions to continue to advance when it came time to make decisions about his career path.

His willingness to take hold of those moments and keep moving forward resulted in a 25-year career that came to an end June 29, 2022, when he retired from the Air Force. But along the way, he said, he has offered up the same advice to young Airmen pondering their future.

“I listened to people and took advantage of all those opportunities,” he said. “People would ask me, ‘Hey, do you want to do this,’ and I’d say yes. Honestly, I never knew that I could say no, I just kept saying yes. That would be the biggest thing is take advantage of that. You open the doors when you become that ‘yes’ person.”

Mueller didn’t initially say “yes” to an enlisted career in the Air Force. He started out in college and was in an ROTC unit for a couple years when the realization came via his father’s encouragement that higher education wasn’t for him at that time. He said he met with a recruiter and was able to get a guaranteed slot to be a loadmaster on a cargo plane.

The chief shipped out to basic military training in February 1997, and eventually came to Sheppard AFB in late-March 1997 for technical training. His path to opportunities took him to Travis AFB, California, where he began his career as a C-5 Galaxy loadmaster and his desire to fly was met.

It was at Travis AFB where he met his wife, retired Air Force Master Sgt. Jennifer Mueller, and when he came to his first decision point to continue his career beyond four years or separate.

“I loved the job and we got married,” he said. “We both had that sense of service, and we said, ‘Hey, let’s continue going down this road.’”

Even after re-enlisting, Mueller said he wasn’t sure if the Air Force would be a career. But he and Jennifer decided if they hit the 10-year mark, they would finish out their careers.

The chief said he didn’t have any aspirations to reach the ranks of the top enlisted in the service, nor of becoming a command chief. He said he was a young master sergeant when the idea of becoming an E-9 was mentioned, but he was focused on the job and taking care of people.

The people part — that needed a little work over the years. He said his younger self was considered a hot head and lacked patience. He said that character trait began to change when he was teaching new loadmasters the tricks of the trade.

“What really made me start working on it was when I became an instructor or even an evaluator,” he said. “You can’t instruct someone by yelling and screaming at them. That didn’t work. So, I had to change that approach. I really wanted to be a good instructor. I wanted to make sure people understood the information that I’m trying to pass. Same thing as an evaluator.”

That internal adjustment, he said, led to him being more even-keeled with a strong desire to take care of Airmen. He recalled one moment when a junior loadmaster was about to leave on a mission, and he didn’t have a flight jacket. He said he couldn’t let the Airman depart without a jacket given some of the environments they went to, so he went and found the Airman the gear he needed.

Roughly half of Mueller’s career has been spent in a leadership role at various levels, taking care of Airmen under his charge. The past three years have been in Air Education and Training Command, where has supported the development of the next generation of military aviators for the United States and its allies.

Mueller said he has enjoyed his Air Force career, having gone to more than 100 countries, amassing 1,700 days and 4,600 flying hours on the road — or in the air. From enlisting in the Air Force to the events of 9/11, being among the first enlisted members to coordinate and manage air mobility missions at the Tanker Airlift Control Center at Scott AFB, Illinois, and finally his service as part of Team ENJJPT, the chief said his career has been great.

While he loved the travel opportunities the service afforded him, it’s the men and women he served with he will miss the most.