MILWAUKEE – Before the sun crests the treetops that flank that backside of Airman 1st Class Richard Wengler’s house, the 36-year-old father of two young boys gives them a kiss goodbye. He prepares to leave one career and report for duty at the 128th Air Refueling Wing, Maintenance Squadron, for his other career. This sounds familiar to most who serve in the military, leaving their family to report for service. Unlike most people who have a 40-hour work week to earn an income working in an office, working for a municipality, or working for the local cable provider, Wengler’s full-time job does not garner him a paycheck. It offers him something many parents would love to say is their full-time career. Wengler is a stay-at-home dad.
After earning a bachelor of science degree in psychology, Wengler didn’t just decide on being a stay-at-home dad. He and his wife Laura decided, before their children were even born, they wanted to have a closer relationship and be able to spend more time with their children. After weighing all of the advantages and disadvantages of which parent could and should take on the role, they decided Richard would assume the mantle.
But stay-at-home does not equate with stuck at home. For nearly two years, Wengler has served as an aerospace maintenance technician, commonly referred to as crew chief, with the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 128th Air Refueling Wing. His primary duty is to ensure the mission-ready status of the KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft used by the wing.
Wengler always knew that he wanted to be part of a larger team and serve in the military. It was not until the age of 35 that he took his first steps on that journey. There aren’t many branches that would allow him to enlist at his age, still be close to his family, and have the career options he wanted, until he came across the Air National Guard.
The most important goal that Wengler wanted to fulfill by enlisting in the armed forces is also a core element within all the branches – a sense of tradition. Wengler learned his sense of tradition from two family members who served.
His uncle spent 30 years on active duty in the Air Force, also as a crew chief. His grandfather was a World War II veteran and a retired engineer who helped construct the World Trade Centers. After the events of 9/11, Wengler had an even stronger desire to serve.
Wengler hopes to pass down those same traditions, teachings, and sense of responsibility to his children, five-year-old A.J. and four-year-old Isaac.
Wengler has noticed a series of paradigm shifts with his family and military careers merging together. At home he was the “trainer” in the sense that it is his and his wife’s job to teach A.J. and Isaac the proper way to do things. Upon joining the military, the roles were flipped around and he became the trainee again. He relies on others to teach him the right ways from the wrong ways when doing his aerospace maintenance job. After a drill weekend, he is back to being a mentor, father and friend to his boys and still a seasoned trainee ready to continue learning and honing his craft at the 128th Air Refueling Wing.
Wengler has already done two temporary duty assignments since joining the unit in 2013. Over the winter, he took part in a 10-day aeromedical evacuation mission that spanned multiple cross-country flights. His primary role was to help keep the aircraft ready and able to transport the wounded service members. That mission was the first flight for Wengler since joining the 128th Air Refueling Wing. A few months later, Wengler took part in an overseas mission to Hawaii.
“He has a genuine willingness to work as a team and complete whatever task assigned,” Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Wagner, the maintenance production supervisor, said of Wengler.
Looking towards the future, Wengler wants to hone his craft, advance in rank, assume greater responsibility, and continue to be a part of something larger. He knows that his job of finding any discrepancies that may keep an aircraft from flying is only the first step.
Wengler’s long-term desire is to finish his educational and professional journey to become a physician’s assistant. Although he thinks it may take a few years, he wants to turn the mantle of stay-at-home parent to his wife, so she can experience the same enjoyments he has watching his children grow during his time as a stay-at-home dad.