• Jun 13, 2024
  • 10:34 PM

Stories from Nevada Women Veterans: Marlene Merck


After retiring from the military, Marlene Merck wanted to make a home in a small town with a slow pace and was drawn to the beauty of the Ruby Mountains in Nevada’s frontier. Having served 24 years in the U.S. Air Force, she moved with her daughter to Elko and started a new life in rural Nevada.

As a youth, Marlene watched three of her brothers serve – two in the Marines and one in the Navy. After high school she was undecided about her future and she attended community college for two years before meeting with an enthusiastic recruiter who convinced her to enlist in the Air Force. Her grandfather, a World War II veteran who fought in North Africa, harbored his own dream of being in the Air Force, and Marlene’s enlistment fulfilled his long-held desire.

Having achieved rank of Master Sergeant in Services (food, fitness, and lodging), Merck has extensive experience in the hospitality industry. Her dad taught her to have pride in whatever job she was doing. What she valued the most about being a servicewoman was taking care of others and providing excellent customer service. She has transferred her well-honed military skills to her work in Elko, where for a time she dabbled in the food industry and now serves as a lunch monitor at the local middle school.

Marlene has a son, daughter and three stepchildren. Having spent so much time away from her family during her military service, she missed out on part of their childhood. What she’s enjoying most about retirement is being able to spend time with family and connect with her teenage daughter. Moreover, Marlene’s face lights up when she talks about the students at the middle school. She loves being able to look out for and mentor these kids. Merck sees herself as another role model who pays attention and teaches youth how to be accountable for their actions.

5 QUESTIONS FOR MARLENE

  1. Who was your greatest mentor during your time in the service and why? What did you learn from them that you still use today?

I was already in the service ten years when I met Master Sergeant Jimmy Daniels while stationed in Little Rock, Arkansas. One day, he pulled me aside and said, “I see you’ve worked in all these different places and have lots of experience in a variety of positions. I want to make you my Food Service Accountant.” In my new role, he taught me the concept of “trust and verify.” I’d give him the numbers, but then he wanted me to show him (verify) where I got the information, and how I arrived at those calculations. He’d say, “Trust everybody’s telling you the truth but then verify the information, so you’re covered.” I still use this concept of “trust and verify” today. However, what really made him a mentor was when I was going through a rough time in my personal life. He took me aside and asked what was wrong. He noticed I was struggling and showed me he cared. He was always there to make sure I was going down the right path, getting me the proper materials when it came time for testing or doing a mock review board so I was prepared.

  1. In the military, during extreme experiences such as weather, combat, problems, etc., what creative solutions did you employ? How did you turn these challenges into positive outcomes? How does your problem-solving experience in the military impact the way you approach challenges today?

For me, my problems stemmed from my personal life not my military career. My personal life is what taught me the most about solving problems because I tried to do everything on my own without asking for help, and it really took a toll on me. One year I had moved, had several legal cases with my husband, and just had a baby. All this stress was compounded, and I learned I had to ask for help and talk about it. It was my personal life that made me who I am and influenced how I solved problems during my time in the service. I was always the fixer at work, and military culture discouraged the idea of asking for help because it’s seen as a weakness. Being able to go up to someone in the military and ask for help or say, “I don’t understand. Please show me,” was something I learned from my personal struggles. I became a better supervisor to my fellow servicewomen because I demonstrated that asking for help wasn’t a sign of weakness, but a strength.

  1. Looking back, what wisdom would you share with your younger self when she joined the military? Is there anything that you’ve forgotten that your younger self could teach you today?

I would tell her, “Invest in your retirement.” I would tell her to put money aside and take care of her future. I learned that if you’re in a difficult marriage, make sure you are financially taking care of yourself. I was in the middle of a divorce when my aunt gave me this sound advice about putting money away.

In Basic Training, because I was under a lot of pressure, my younger self learned to think on her feet. During times of stress, I would say the first thing that popped into my head, which was always the honest thing. I learned that no matter how bad it might be to tell somebody something, you just need to tell them the truth because that takes courage. I think my younger self would say, “Be truthful.”

  1. What was the most important moment of sisterhood during your military career – the moment when you felt most empowered as a woman and service member? How has the moment shaped you into the person you are today?

During my first ten years of military service, I didn’t see many women in my chosen career field. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that I started serving with more women. When I was getting ready to deploy to Guam, I was on a tight timeline to get everything done. I had an appointment run late, and I couldn’t get any of the men to cover my shift in the kitchen. In response, I received a reprimand to which I wrote a rebuttal letter detailing the ongoing chauvinistic behavior and double standards that I and two other fellow servicewomen were experiencing in the kitchen. The Food Service Officer read the letter, called in the men and gave them a good talking to. He said, “From now on the women are in charge. You will treat every single woman like your sister or your mom. There will no longer be double standards.” It took courage to stand up to these guys and say, “Enough.” It changed me into a person who is not afraid to say, “You’re wrong,” and it encouraged me to look out for and take care of my military sisters while in service and even today.  

  1. Where was one of most interesting places you were stationed and why? What did you learn there?

One of the most beautiful places I was deployed was Japan. I loved living there because I enjoyed learning about the culture. I thought there might be some strangeness because of the conflict between Japan and the U.S. during World War II. However, I discovered that the Japanese people are very polite and forgiving. While stationed in Japan, I took the time to learn the language and customs, and I travelled all the time, visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, the film location for the movie Shogun, and Station Eight on Mt. Fuji.