Master Sgt. Bode named AFRC’s 2014 Crew Chief of the Year

U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Perry Covington

Master Sgt. James Bode, Air Reserve Technician (ART) and dedicated crew chief, 752nd Aerospace Maintenance Squadron (AMXS), was recently selected to receive the 2014 Chief Master Sgt. Thomas N. Barnes Award as the Crew Chief of the Year by Air Force Reserve Command.

His nomination was submitted to AFRC earlier in the year, he said, and last Thursday people were asking him about his selection and congratulating him.

“Swing shift got notified before I was told, and I was dumbfounded that I could make it to AFRC,” he said. “There are a lot of crew chiefs out there, and just doing my job doesn’t seem like that sets me apart.”

But, contrary to his beliefs, ‘just doing his job’ goes above and beyond the job description for the 36-year-old aircraft mechanic and dedicated crew chief. Bode doesn’t just fix airplanes.

“He makes things easier for supervisors and reservists,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jeremy Knox, ART and section chief, 752 AMXS.

As ARTs, Knox said their main goal is to train traditional reservists (TRs). Bode has a crew of TRs that he helps manage by providing flightline training, as well as helping with orders and lodging issues. He keeps in contact with them, Knox said.

“We have 14 crews. With him leading one of them it helps. He’s an expert on the flightline as well. He does all kinds of stuff over and above the other lead crew chiefs,” Knox said.

Bode has sustained his job performance by taking pride in ownership in his KC-135 Stratotanker, aircraft 61-0324, with the perfect execution of 135 flights and 631 flying hours. This garnered his seven-man team the AFRC 2014 Crew of the Year award.

Bode, a Chico, California native, enlisted in October 1998 and has served at March Field for almost seven years. Given the opportunity from a recruiter to be an aircraft mechanic was sort of a dream, he said.

“I’ve always liked jets, since I was little boy. I didn’t know I wanted to work on them, I just wanted to be around them,” Bode said. I didn’t know I’d like it as much until after I left active duty as a crew chief. That’s when I really missed it. I still love my job,” he said. “I get to deal with machinery and not people. It doesn’t talk back. It’s always there when I need it. It waits for me.”

Bode said the biggest perk as a crew chief is that he gets to travel with his aircraft.

“I get to impact the mission right then and there. I get to see my work and the end result in the same day,” he said. “It’s more rewarding than I ever thought it would be.”

Another reason he loves his job is his drive to keep learning. Bode said he always wants to learn new things and constantly wants to fix the broken ways of the system. So he took action.

About 11 years ago, while on active duty, Bode wrote his first Technical Order (TO) to try to make the job less complicated. He was inspired to help maintainers do their jobs without all of the unnecessary jargon that was mixed in with the TO, that was either outdated or unnecessary. His goal was to keep safety first while making the job easier. Since then he has authored 15 TOs, which were all approved, allowing the Total Force of Air Force mechanics to do their jobs quicker and more efficiently, saving the Air Force as a whole time and money.

Five years ago, while working in Quality Assurance, Knox heard about Bode.

“When I came here as assistant section chief, I knew right away he was one of my go-to guys when I needed assistance,” Knox said. “I was new to the squadron and he was a lot of help. He cares about his job, is doing it and doing it well,” he added. “He’s dependable and a recognized expert. He doesn’t just help locally,” Knox said. “He’s fixing stuff Air Force wide.”

A lot of the changes that had previously been made in TOs were dead ends and didn’t allow you to fix anything, Bode said. Worst one of all when launching a plane, in order to do maintenance on it, they would have to pull several circuit breakers to make the systems safe to work on. Then they had to write up each circuit breaker that was pulled, and sign off on it when the breaker was re-engaged.

“It was just a vicious cycle of writing things up, locking them out and then re-engaging just to turn power on,” Bode said.

Thanks to his expertise and the approval of one of his TOs, that job has been streamlined.

“Now, when an aircraft lands, the checklist mandates that the circuit breakers are automatically pulled to make the systems safe for maintenance to work on them (the aircraft),” Bode said. “That doesn’t have to be written up or signed off on later, which allows more time to actually do necessary work.”

His intentions are simply to give other mechanics the ability perform their jobs smarter, not

Harder, and to maximize safety without degrading their ability to repair their aircraft, Bode said. The old procedures had maintainers performing each step every time power was turned on. Now it’s only performed when the plane lands and then not again until it’s launched.

Having been an aircraft mechanic for more than 16 years, Bode said early on in his career he was told it will get better, that he just needed to put his time in. He wants young Airmen to understand how true this was for him.

“You just need to put your time in. You don’t get the huge responsibilities until you earn them and the payoff will be huge,” Bode said. “I truly care about maintaining our jets and keeping them in the fight. These aircraft are very old and taking care of old things requires steady hands and a lot of pride,” Bode said. “It is quite literally an art form, when it is all put into motion.”