Work hard, play hard

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kristina Overton
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs Office
From the time he entered the Air Force in 1977, Col. Robert Mendenhall always aspired to be a police officer. Now, as the 341st Security Forces Group commander, he leads four security forces squadrons comprised of more than 1,200 personnel in providing security and force protection in a career field he loves.

Colonel Mendenhall was raised in Sandpoint, Idaho. His father was a police officer, and he intended to take the same route.

After graduating from Sandpoint High School, he found the best method to be a police officer and go to college was to join the Air Force. On Sept. 15, he joined the enlisted ranks as a law enforcement specialist. Once he received his Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from the University of Maryland, he commissioned through Officer Training School in 1989.

As a lieutenant, Colonel Mendenhall was a Missile Security Squadron shift commander stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., and he said that in the missile field, things have changed.

"I was in the missile field for the first few years of my career, before I went base-side," said Colonel Mendenhall. "Things have changed in tactics and operations which are driven by things going on in the world. Since threats have changed, response options and forms of communication have changed. Camera systems are a dramatic modification to our security. Even the troops are different. When I was in the missile field, we didn't have cell phones, computers and cameras. Everything is more technology driven and our troops are much more educated."

Ten assignments after his tour at Ellsworth, Colonel Mendenhall joined Team Malmstrom.

The colonel's duties include overseeing 15 launch control centers and 150 weapons systems deployed across 13,800-square-miles in central Montana. Despite the challenges he faces as a commander, he remains optimistic about working with the troops at Malmstrom, and strengthening the group's capabilities and morale.

"This tour will have its substantial challenges because of the changes in the nuclear enterprise," the colonel said. "It requires us to pay more attention to compliance, but not let compliance blind us to real world events. This group has come a long way before I got here, and they continue to build confidence in this organization to successfully complete the security requirements. Since Sept. 11, we've seen considerable changes in the way we look at the things we do, and in this business, there is no room for error."

The new commander's goals are to "work hard and play hard," in that order.

"If you don't work hard, you'll fail," Colonel Mendenhall said. "I want to give the Airmen the resources they need to get the job done because they do the mission, day-to-day, on the ground. My goals are to see what they need and devise how I can best support them. It's important for me to get out there and talk to the Airmen so I understand where they're coming from, and their ideas so I can help them."

Another goal the new commander has is to ensure that the families of his Airmen are taken care of.

"We owe it to our troops to support their families where we can," the colonel said. "It can get hard with the 12-hour duty shifts we work. There's a lot of sacrifice involved, and I've been out there with them so I understand. My wife and I have been married 26 years, and know all too well the obstacles most Airmen face. Helping families adjust to and react to stress ultimately helps the majority of our Airmen adjust to the Air Force. But people join for different reasons, and one of our challenges will be finding those reasons and trying to strengthen them."

Colonel Mendenhall is joined at Malmstrom by his wife, Dawna, and his son, Mason.

Thus far, the Mendenhall family has not ventured too far from Great Falls, but look forward to touring the rest of Montana and taking part in the activities the area has to offer. Colonel Mendenhall wants to learn to kayak and fly fish.

One of the colonel's everyday hobbies included running, which is also a passion shared by his wife and son. He runs five days a week, and has run in several marathons to include the Air Force, Oklahoma, Blue Angel and Maine Marathon's. His current goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon.