MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Born in Poland, the young boy immigrated to the United States at the age of 10. Although he was far ahead of the math curriculum at his school, neither he nor his brother spoke English, until a librarian, Ms. Rousch, offered to help.
“Within six months I was speaking English fluently,” said Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Plans and Programs superintendent. “God, I hated that woman at first. She made me work, and I didn’t want to. I was a kid; I just wanted to go back to class, do easy math and draw all day.”
But when Bachleda joined the military and returned to his hometown to visit Rousch, he realized why she wanted to help the brothers and learned a lesson that followed him throughout his career.
Don’t judge a book by it’s cover
“She was a Women Airforce Service Pilot during World War II, and she knew that I grew up in communism and understood what other people didn’t,” said Bachleda. “She saw instantly that we were not dumb just because we couldn’t communicate. So, whenever I see people judging other people by their background or here in the Air Force when they only see the stripes on their sleeve, that [upsets] me. You have no idea who they are or what they’re capable of.”
After graduating high school, Bachleda enlisted in the Air Force as an F-16 Fighting Falcon crew chief where his motivation and talents were quickly noticed by those around him. After observing a trend of failed engine bay inspections on the flightline around him, Bachleda took it upon himself to train with the quality assurance inspectors on his days off to learn what mistakes were being made so that he could master exactly what to look for and make corrections.
Bachleda soon became an expert on these inspections to the point that he was specifically appointed by leadership to be the final step prior to any QA engine bay inspection requests. By the time Bachleda was a senior airman, he was designated as a dedicated crew chief to his own aircraft. From experience on the flightline Bachleda ascertained a few more lessons.
There’s plenty of ways to skin a cat
“I don’t walk in to be the new sheriff in town or anything like that, but I can’t help but see potential anywhere I go. I stay quiet and observe first, and see there’s plenty of ideas to make a difference in every squadron, every section and every building. So I say, ‘How about we take a time out and talk about this process—ask questions. Why do we do things this way and can we make it easier on us?’”
Be able to take criticism
“You can’t have an idea and think everybody is going to accept it. You have to have the mindset that everybody and their brother is going to try to shoot it down. The solution to combat that is to ask other people, ‘Tell me all the bad things about this idea. Don’t tell me what’s right, tell me what’s wrong.’ Then, I can solve those problems, incorporate all of those changes and make it the best product possible.”
Bachleda eventually retrained to become a boom operator and quickly made his mark on his new career field. He spent 13 months developing an ergonomically correct support cushion and floor panel for KC-135 Stratotanker boom operators, which potentially saves Airmen from future medical problems—an invention that was picked up and is currently being tested by the Air Force.
But Bachleda’s accomplishments don’t stop there. His innovations even have him dabbling in other career fields, from creating a new aircrew alert system to enhance readiness, to creating air refueling training videos to inspire and coach a new generation of boom operators. In the process of generating all of these innovations during his Air Force career, Bachleda tailored a few tips for bringing ideas into fruition.
Sitting there wishing won’t get it done
“If you see a problem, don’t just complain about it; try to solve it. Figuring out the problem is number one: do the research, do the measurements, conduct tests and start talking to people with experience to come up with the best solution.”
Show up to play
“Don’t show up to be a participant. Show up to play. When I make a promise that I’m going to deliver on something, come hell or high water it’s going to happen. That’s the mindset you should have. If you have an idea you care about I don’t want to ever hear you say you’re trying to do something—you’re going to do it. Change your mindset and change it now.”
You can’t make everybody happy
“There’s always going to be people who don’t understand the things you do. Don’t let anyone discourage you with the word ‘no’ just because they think like everybody else and you don’t. I despise the answer ‘no’ when it comes to change. It shows me that you’re not open minded when it comes to something that could change our Air Force.”
This lesson of individual resilience and an open-minded attitude is not only shown through Bachleda’s problems solving, but is distinct within his leadership style, and is a shared principle passed down through his chain of command.
Let your horses run
“As a leader I need to understand where an individual finds joy and what things make them want to do what they do,” said Lt. Col Wendell Hertzelle, 22nd ARW XP chief. “If you can find those areas you can tap into the interest, encourage them and shape that to improving the mission. Bachleda aligns a lot with me in this way when it comes to supervising. If an Airman wants to help in different way, there’s no need to restrain them. They’ll not only accomplish the mission, but you’ll get extra value.”
Bachleda and his supervisor see eye-to-eye on leadership styles, and Bachleda uses a lot of these same approaches in how he supervises Airmen of his own.
It’s okay not to think like everyone else
“Your comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing grows there. Step out of the box. If you’re thinking like everybody else, you’re not really thinking.”
Bachleda never sees a problem as too difficult to tackle. Throughout all of his battles and accomplishments in his career at the end of the day it’s all about attitude.
“My mindset and the way I think is different,” said Bachleda. “Every morning I wake up I have a positive attitude. I approach every day as a new challenge and I think, ‘What can I do to help people and make things better around me and make our Air Force better?’”