YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan --
It had been 30 years since he last saw those tail numbers but the memory of them remains as if it was only yesterday. Three C-130H Hercules had flown around the world countless times fulfilling their mission, yet here they were after all this time. When last they met it was at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas, while the aircraft were under his father’s command, today they would become his planes.
“When I first got to Yokota Air Base, Japan, for my change of command ceremony it was like being greeted by old friends,” said Maj. David L. Mueller, 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander. “I didn’t know a lot of faces when I first got here but I recognized those aircraft immediately. I remember being in the second grade, wearing my reflective belt and ear protection of course, and walking around on those planes with my father, a commander of the aircraft generation squadron at the time, I even helped him paint the propeller tips back in 1989."
“While the memories of my time on those planes with my father stuck with me, what I will always remember of those days is how my father interacted with the Airmen he worked with and for throughout his career. Seeing the way he led and the type of person he was contributed to my decision to serve my country when the time came later in my life to answer that call and led me to where I am today.”
For the Muellers, the U.S. Air Force is the family business. Since before the Air Force’s creation in 1947, with service spanning three generations, the Muellers have combined for more than a 100 years of service to their country, with often the most memorable times of that service spent in Japan and in the Pacific Air Forces.
David’s grandfather, the late retired Col. Delbert L. Mueller, flew more than 400 Korean War combat missions as a 21st Troop Carrier Squadron C-54 Skymaster pilot out of Yokota AB and Tachikawa Air Base, Japan, before becoming a C-124 Squadron Maintenance Officer at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. Later, he would go on to become a staff officer for the Military Assistance Group in Japan.
David’s father, retired Col. Kent Mueller began his career as a maintenance officer and commanded a C-130H Aircraft Generation Squadron during Operation Desert Storm. Kent also spent time stationed at Hickam AFB and travelled to Japan throughout his career as he led maintenance management initiatives that included moving the C-130 T-56 maintenance facility to Yokota.
“There is no question that service has been a shared value in our family, our service to the Air Force, our country and to each other,” said Kent. “My dad lived the core values of a patriot and a warrior and my mom built B-24 Liberators during World War II. They both shaped my views and those of my brother, also a retired colonel. As I served throughout my career, David and his sisters grew up in a family where when the call came to serve, we responded."
“As parents, my wife Brenda and I always paved the path in front of our children based on their view of their future. My message to David as he was about to go off to college was always to just find his own path, be the best he could be, and do good and he has done just that. As parents it’s been exciting and rewarding to watch his progress.”
It was after his first semester of college that David would find his path via the same service his family had served in for the previous two generations.
“My father never really pressured me to commission,” said David. “He wanted me to figure it out on my own, and I did just that. When I looked at what my grandfather and father achieved and the type of people and leaders they were, I knew that I wanted to have that same level of positive impact in the lives of Airmen. It was a decision I was proud to make, to add to our family’s legacy but also really create my own.”
Upon graduating from the University of Missouri as part of the AF Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Detachment 440, David’s grandfather and father both pinned on his second Lieutenant bars, the same bars that had been worn by his grandfather when he first commissioned. With his commissioning came also some advice from his father, the same advice his father gave to him when he had commissioned, “Never forget who does the work, it’s not you, it’s your troop.”
“It was that advice that I really took to heart, and I’ve always tried to stay true to,” said David. “I’ve always tried to be that kind of leader of Airmen. As a part of that I try to always know my people. I know I can never know everything about everybody but I want to be able to know enough to be able to make the difference in someone’s life. Between that personal leadership and motivating everyone to do their best for the sake of the mission I’ve been able to have success. It’s how my father led, how his father led, and it’s how I try to lead every day.”
While David’s father has served as a role model throughout his life, he has also been there for his son throughout his career as not only a mentor, but a friend who is familiar all too well with life in the military.
“I’ve been able to talk to my dad about a lot of the good and the bad that I’ve gone through,” said David. “When I first got the assignment to come to Japan I was actually very worried because there were challenges that came along with it for my family. My father helped me put a lot of it into perspective and upon recalling a lot of the stories of his and his father’s time in Japan, it got us excited to come here and in looking back, I couldn’t have been happier to come to Yokota.
“The Airmen I get to work with and for here are truly amazing human beings and they have thrived in the face of every obstacle placed before them. Whether in a typhoon evacuation or a samurai surge, the Ronin maintainers of the 374th AMXS have been some of the most professional Airmen I have ever had the pleasure of serving with. My experience with them and fulfilling the 374th Airlift Wing’s mission has made this professionally one of the most rewarding jobs in my career.”
As the three generations of Muellers worked to maintain stability in the Pacific, the people of Japan left a lasting impression for each to carry with them as they continued on to their next mission.
“Going to my grandparents as a child and realizing that it was decorated not like any other traditional western home was a part of my childhood,” said David. “Their home was filled with all of the things my grandparents had brought back from Japan. Japanese artifacts and trinkets that were important to them. He would take us out to eat sushi and speak Japanese while raving about Tokyo and just how thankful he was to not just serve in the military but that he was lucky enough to experience Japan. He treasured his time here and my dad was no different."
“Serving in Japan today I know exactly why they felt that way because every day I wake up in Japan is a blessing. Walking out the gate and the reception we receive from the people, the customs and courtesies that are a part of their culture and just taking everything in that this beautiful country has to offer has me so thankful to ever have had the opportunity to come here. By the time we leave I know my home is going to be filled with things reminiscent of my time here just like my grandfather’s.”
Homes filled with memories made decades apart is only just one portion of the bond shared amongst the Muellers. A bond they know is uniquely their own.
“Living in Japan connects us,” said Kent. “Having each had the opportunity to discover the beautiful and timeless culture of the people and country really gives us a bond that few families have been able to experience. While the culture embraced us, each of us flying missions from the same runways years apart also connects all of us in our rich family’s Air Force history.”
It is those shared memories that often leave David wondering just how the stars aligned to allow him to serve where his father and grandfather had previously served.
“When I think about my family’s story and the U.S. Air Force, really ever since it’s been around we have always had someone carrying the flag so to speak,” said David. “To be a third generation maintenance officer it really feels like the family business, and I am so proud and humble to be a part of that legacy. Knowing each generation did their part to make the mission happen not only in the Air Force, but in the Pacific in particular, is something special we will always cherish and share.”