One of the nation’s most dynamic military intelligence officers died on May 19 from injuries he sustained in a head-on collision that occurred three days previously along a treacherous stretch of one the county’s two-lane desert roads.
Colonel Alexander Merz, 50, the deputy director of Special Programs with the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, was driving a 2018 Nissan Versa northbound on Old Woman Springs Road near Olvine Road around 4:40 p.m. May 16 when Twentynine Palms resident Anthony Wilson, 27, driving a 2019 Ford F150 southbound, crossed over a solid yellow line to pass slower traffic. Wilson, moving at a rate of speed exceeding 70 miles per hour, collided with Merz’s vehicle.
Wilson was able to make his way out of the wreckage. A responding ambulance transported him to the Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs. Merz initially survived, but was totally immobilized. Responding firefighters had to use the jaws of life to extract him from the tangle of metal, glass and plastic he was encased in. Merz was transported by helicopter to Desert Regional Medical Center, where he was eventually placed on life support. Doctors were not able to save him.
An Air Force colonel with expertise relating to a multitude of electronic intelligence collecting strategies, devices and methods, Merz’s assignments had included assuming civilian identities and traveling to foreign destinations where he was himself engaged in or facilitated efforts by others in clandestinely installing sensors and monitoring equipment which collected sound, video, vibrational and digital data.
Most recently he had been billeted at the Defense Intelligence Agency operations center in Palm Springs.
The dashing Merz had been twice deployed to the former Republic of Yugoslavia. As a captain he did a tour of duty in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom and on two separate occasions, the second while he held the rank of major, he was posted to Iraq.
The one-time commander of the 93rd Intelligence Squadron, Merz was vice commander of the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, supporting the National Security Agency and the Air Force with cryptologic intelligence. He served as director of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for Air Force Special Operations from June 2015 to June 2018.
Merz was commissioned at University of Wyoming in December 1992 at the age of 23. Identified as an exceptional talent as a second lieutenant, Merz attended the National War College in Washington, D.C., the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey and the Indian Defense Services Staff College, Wellington, India. He did tours at the Air Force Special Operations Command, Pacific Air Forces and the Joint Analysis Center, a military intelligence analysis center in England run by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Old Woman Springs Road, also known as California State Route 247, runs from Yucca Valley at its southeast terminus and Barstow on its northwest extreme, with its major junctions being State Route 62 in Yucca Valley, State Route 18 near Lucerne Valley and I-15 in Barstow.
Merz survived by his wife, Tristan, and three children, Josiah, Tessa and Jack.