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New boom platform improves quality of life for KC-135 Airmen

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Breanna Klemm
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs Office

The 97th Air Mobility Wing hosted an implementation ceremony for the new KC-135 Stratotanker boom operator instructor platform Nov. 4 at Altus Air Force Base, Okla., revealing a design that will be used throughout the KC-135 fleet.

The new boom operator instructor platform will be placed in the KC-135 beginning Nov. 20. The updated platform was invented by Senior Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda, Nuclear Policy of Air Mobility Command superintendent and command manager, assigned to the 22nd Refueling Wing at McConnell AFB, Kan. Bachleda’s design is scheduled to replace all instructor platforms Air Force-wide, keeping mobility Airmen safe, prepared and mission ready.

Lt. Gen. Jon Thomas, Air Mobility Command deputy commander, and Bachleda spoke during the ceremony, highlighting the creation, execution and effectiveness of the new boom platform.

“This new platform not only will help improve the instructor’s ability to teach, but it will help improve the quality of life of our Airmen during, and after their time in the Air Force,” said Thomas. “This new platform will reduce the amount of strain and stressors on our boom operators, giving us more Airmen in the fight and physically able to complete their mission.”

Bachleda spoke about what sparked his idea for creating a new platform while he was stationed at Altus AFB as a boom instructor. His design was submitted to the Air Force Spark Tank program in early 2018. The program recognizes innovation and allows Airmen around the world to develop and present ideas that can improve Air Force function and processes.

“While I was a boom operator instructor here in Altus, I came to realize that we had a serious issue affecting our instructors, across the squadron in which needed to be resolved,” said Bachleda. “I started to compile the medical data of instructors [who] gave me permission, and I realized this is a huge problem, not just at Altus, but across the Air Force as well. It blew my mind that someone had not looked at the data before, so I knew I had to do something about it.”

In early 2018, Bachleda was the Air Force’s first Spark Tank winner. His new boom operator platform design aims to reduce neck and back injuries boom operators experience in day-to-day operations. The new platform is 80% less expensive than other designs, which has helped improve Airmen’s health and has reduced an estimated $100 million in annual medical costs resulting from neck, back and shoulder injuries.

“As an instructor, and after years of being in an uncomfortable position which the boom pod has, you develop injuries that prevent you from flying and accomplishing the mission,” said Bachleda. “Because of our high ops tempo and combat environments in which we deploy to, we are essentially eating through the career field and through our booms at a blistering rate due to these injuries. The purpose of the new platform is to help the rate decrease, and help give booms a better quality of life.”

Mobility’s Hometown earned its name by being the only initial and requalification training location for the KC-135 air crew and pilots. Now, thanks to innovative Airmen from across the Air Force, boom operator instructors are provided with a comfortable work environment, allowing them to train warrior Airmen more efficiently.

“We have a culture inside our Air Force where we allow people to think creatively, recognize there are problems and challenges and encourage them to come up with the proper solutions,” said Thomas. “You have got to have that motivation in our world where we need to defend the nation, no matter what the challenges are, and our Airmen completely understand and conquer that.”

The Air Force continues to improve the lethality and readiness of Airmen across the globe through innovative ideas inspired by Airmen, building a culture of excellence together.