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1976 grad Merrill shares stories of his life in the Air Force fighting in multiple war theaters

By: Margaret Snider, Telegraph Correspondent
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The leadership of the Eagles provided a base at their Lodge for 1970s graduates on Friday night of the Folsom High School All-Class Reunion weekend. Jason Merrill, Class of ’76, and Mark Fawcett, ’78, were among those who wanted to be sure to be able to find their classmates. Merrill flew in from Utah for the event. He was somewhat of a local hero, at least for those who knew him, with active service in the U.S. Air Force from 1977 to 1981, and many years service after that working as a civilian for the military. He is currently attached to the 729th Air Control Squadron which is based in Hill AFB, Utah. When they are deployed, his team is deployed with them as technical experts. “I spent most of my career working in electronic warfare radar systems,” Merrill said. Much of the radar is ancient, but it works very well. “Us old guys, us experts at obsolete technology, know how it all works,” Merrill said. “I don’t care what you work at, it’s kind of like a car. If you can change oil and spark plugs and filter you can work on most cars. Radars are the same way.” Merrill has worked in four war theaters from the 80s to the current time. “This last trip was to Kandahar to set up the air traffic picture from there,” Merrill said. “As you know, we went in and got the bad guy in Pakistan, and we provided a lot of information, the air picture information, that helps with that.” He worked at one time for a subsidiary of Halliburton, and he was on a conference call with the CEO, Randall Harl, when another participant was introduced as “Richard.” “It was Richard Cheney,” Merrill said. “They wanted me to go do a two-and-a-half million dollar contract to Hungary, to support the Bosnia conflict, air traffic systems again.” Merrill compared being in the war theater to being on a baseball team. “When you’re in the (war) theater with a bunch of young kids, you want to bring them all home,” Merrill said. “So your intensity goes up. You’re responsible for people. When I sat in center field in high school and looked at the other guys in the field — there’s nine of us on the field, each one of us have to do our best to win that game . . . Your mind, your body, can do amazing things, way beyond what you think you can do.” In high school, Merrill lettered in band and choir and played football, basketball and baseball. He was center fielder, a left-handed switch hitter, and hit around .385, making All-League his senior year. “I was in the Reds and A’s camps, but I went in the Air Force because my problem was as a switch hitting center fielder,” Merrill said. “I’m 5’7” and if you look in Sports Illustrated in 1976 there are no guys that are short that played outfield.” He said Folsom had a population of 16,000 people when he graduated. “A lot of people have gone uphill, El Dorado Hills, Rescue, and gotten out of town,” Merrill said. “All the fields we used to ride motorcycles and hike and ride bikes, whatever — all gone. So this to me was a special thing because some of these guys I haven’t seen since high school. And it’s good to reconnect with them.” People tend to remember Merrill. “He was a really well-liked guy, real easy to talk with,” said Fawcett. His classmate Jennifer Melvin said, “He knew everybody, everybody knew Jason.” Merrill has considered opening a campaign for president, using the Internet and online media. “They need to open the window and let the air in,” he said. More than 50 years old now, he looks back on his life. “Wow, what a ride,” Merrill said. “You don’t want to get old and think, I never did anything, I’ve just been sitting here like a bump on a log. So I can’t say that. I’ve done too many things.” Merrill flew back to Utah on Sunday morning. “He was running around all night long,” Fawcett said. “I talked to him Saturday morning and he said he was so busy running around that he only had two beers that night, which is pretty amazing for him.”