Daily Herald
Crystal Lake serviceman trading desk job for tour in Iraq
By Charles Keeshan | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 5/19/2008 3:46 PM | Updated: 5/19/2008 6:47 PM

Lt. Michael Mueller wants to trade the sandy beaches of Florida for the war-torn streets of Iraq.

If that sounds crazy to you, the Crystal Lake native who volunteered to give up his desk job with the U.S. Air Force for an infantry assignment with the Army agrees.

"Most people don't understand why I would want to leave Florida and a job where I get lots of time off," Mueller said Monday. "But that's not what I wanted.

"And I'm crazy," he said. "If (the first explanation) doesn't work for people, I go with that."

Mueller, 24, made his switch official Monday during a swearing-in ceremony at the McHenry County courthouse, surrounded by his family, friends and local officials.

The change is possible through the military's "Blue to Green" program, which allows members of the Air Force and Navy to transfer their commitment to the Army.

For Mueller, a 2002 graduate of the Air Force Academy, it's a move that means he's leaving his cushy post as an aeronautical engineer in the Sunshine State for at least a year of hard infantry training and then a tour of duty overseas, probably in Iraq.

While Mueller admits the move may puzzle some, those who know him best say his decision comes as no shock.

"Leaders lead, and that's what Michael is doing," said State Rep. Michael Tryon, a longtime friend of Mueller's family. "It's no surprise to me that he wants to do this."

What Mueller most wanted was to become a fighter pilot after graduating Crystal Lake South High School and heading off to the Air Force Academy. Those dreams were grounded, however, when doctors discovered a previously undiagnosed color vision deficiency that disqualified him from flying for the Air Force.

Instead, Mueller was trained as an engineer, graduated in the top 10 percent of his class and landed a plum assignment working with weapons systems at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle.

But while not dismissing the importance of his work in Florida, Mueller said it isn't what he signed up for when he committed to military service.

"I want to lead men in combat," he said. "It's a matter of preference."

He will very likely get that chance in as little as 12 months after first attending Combat Officer Training School at Fort Benning, Ga., followed by Army Airborne School and perhaps Army Ranger School.

While that has Mueller's parents understandably concerned, they are not trying to talk him out of his decision.

"I think he makes an excellent engineer, but this is where his heart is and because of that I'm pleased he did it," George Mueller said. "Being safe behind a desk somewhere is not what he wanted."