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From reluctant solider to Air Force colonel: Meet Col. Michelle Mulberry

Col. Michelle Mulberry

Col. Michelle Mulberry, 153rd Mission Support Group commander, official photo.

Master Sgt. Theresa Sheheen (left) and Capt. Michelle Mulberry tend to a patient on an aeromedical evacuation flight from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Capt. Mulberry, a flight nurse, and Sergeant Sheheen, a medical technician, are deployed from the Wyoming Air National Guard's 187th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)

Master Sgt. Theresa Sheheen (left) and Capt. Michelle Mulberry tend to a patient on an aeromedical evacuation flight from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Capt. Mulberry, a flight nurse, and Sergeant Sheheen, a medical technician, are deployed from the Wyoming Air National Guard's 187th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)

Capt. Michelle Mulberry, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight nurse, speaks to the C-130 aircrew prior to receiving patients on an aeromedical evacuation mission from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Capt. Mulberry is deployed from the Wyoming Air National Guard's 187th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Cheyenne, Wyo. (photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)

Capt. Michelle Mulberry, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight nurse, speaks to the C-130 aircrew prior to receiving patients on an aeromedical evacuation mission from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Capt. Mulberry is deployed from the Wyoming Air National Guard's 187th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Cheyenne, Wyo. (photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)

Col. Michelle Mulberry

Private Michelle Balliet, now Col. Michelle Mulberry poses for her official United States Army Basic Training photo.Prior to joining the Wyoming Air National Guard, Mulberry spent ten years with the Army National Guard (Courtesy photo)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. --

Imagine being 17 years old. You somehow find yourself in the North Dakota Army National Guard and the idea of promoting as a junior enlisted soldier doesn’t seem remotely possible. Little did you know, in 28 years, you would not only be a group commander in the Wyoming Air National Guard, but you would also become a colonel.

Meet Col. Michelle Mulberry, 153rd Mission Support Group commander.

When Mulberry started her military career, she felt it was for all of the wrong reasons.

She had grown up watching her father serve as a colonel in the National Guard and with pressure from her sister, who happened to be a recruiter, found herself enlisted in the North Dakota Army National Guard as a truck driver. 

While family ties to the military introduced Mulberry to the National Guard, is was the education benefits that sealed the deal.

“I joined for the wrong reasons,” she said. “I really just joined so I could go to school and become a paramedic. I never thought I would even make it to E-4.”

Despite Mulberry’s disinterest in the North Dakota Army National Guard, she continued to serve as a truck driver, then as a flight medic before transferring to the Wyoming Army National Guard, where she continued to serve as a flight medic.

“I was not a big fan of the Army Guard, it just wasn’t for me. And then it came time to reenlist and there was a bonus, so I went ahead,” she said. “Seriously, all of the wrong reasons, right?”

Once Mulberry moved to Wyoming, she pursued her education goals while working as a paramedic. Within five years of serving in the Wyoming Army National Guard, Mulberry earned her associate degree in nursing from Laramie County Community College and then transferred to the University of Wyoming to complete her Bachelor of Science, also in nursing.

This is where Mulberry’s military career took a turn. Due to her desire to continue to fly as a medic, she decided to transfer to the Wyoming Air National Guard and commission as a flight nurse.

“When I came to the [Wyoming] Air National Guard and attended my first drill, I made the comment that my goal was to be the commander of the aeromedical evacuation squadron one day,” Mulberry said.

For the first time in her 10 years in the military, Mulberry had finally set a career goal. 

“I absolutely loved the Air Guard,” she said. “It was the perfect job for me. During my time in the Army Guard, I didn’t see that.”

As Mulberry’s career progressed, she accomplished her goal of becoming the commander of the 187th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron after 13 years with the squadron.

“When that time came, I wasn’t sure I was ready for it,” she said. “But I don’t know if you’re ever ready.”

The career milestones didn’t stop there. After four years in command, Mulberry was selected to lead the 153rd Mission Support Group as a lieutenant colonel.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine becoming the mission support group commander,” she said.

About a year into her command, Mulberry was then selected to promote to colonel.

“Besides the shock and awe, it’s a huge accomplishment for me because it’s not something I ever thought I would achieve in my military career,” she said. “I am honored and humbled that leadership believes in me to take this next step.”

Over the course of her career, Mulberry has learned many lessons, the greatest being to learn from mistakes and failures.

“It’s OK to fail and fall on your face,” she said. “It’s OK to make mistakes. It is about how you pick yourself up from those mistakes. We are all going to fail and make mistakes, you just have to learn from them and move forward.”

Looking back on her career, Mulberry believes the hardest and most rewarding part has been being a commander. 

“Being a commander is the most challenging and the most rewarding at the same time,” she said. “The rewarding part is helping airmen grow and meet their own personnel and professional goals. The challenging part is doing just that.”

While Mulberry’s love for the Air National Guard fueled her success, she believes it wouldn’t have been possible without the leaders and mentors along the way, in addition the airmen of the 153rd Airlift Wing.

“I would not be in this position if it were not for the people in this wing that I learn something from each and every day.”