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Massachusetts Airmen recognized for innovation

Master Sgt. Leo Burbee, 104th Maintenance Group structural maintenance supervisor, and Master Sgt. Bob Oleksak, 104MXG fabrication element supervisor, stand at attention after receiving the Air Force Achievement Medal during a ceremony Nov. 14, 2020, at Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts.

Master Sgt. Leo Burbee, 104th Maintenance Group structural maintenance supervisor, and Master Sgt. Bob Oleksak, 104MXG fabrication element supervisor, stand at attention after receiving the Air Force Achievement Medal during a ceremony Nov. 14, 2020, at Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts.

WESTFIELD, Mass. – Two members of the 104th Fighter Wing Maintenance Group came up with a better way to repair F-15 Eagle panels, saving the Air National Guard lots of money and increasing combat readiness.

For their efforts, Master Sgt. Leo Burbee, 104MXG structural maintenance supervisor, and Master Sgt. Bob Oleksak, 104MXG fabrication element supervisor, were presented with the 2020 Massachusetts Air National Guard Co-Innovator of the Year Awards by Brig. Gen. John Driscoll, commander of the Massachusetts Army National Guard, and the Air Force Achievement Medal by Capt. Jason Hickox, 104th Maintenance Squadron commander, Nov. 14 at Barnes Air National Guard Base.

The MANG Innovation Award recognizes Burbee and Oleksak's innovative drive and spirit. From idea to inception and development, they introduced a cost-effective F-15 Eagle panel repair technology to the Air Force. They engineered a solution that will save the Air National Guard approximately $150,000 and 650 person-hours annually.

Their process repairs damaged and out-of-tolerance fastener holes and not only fixes panels and doors but also helps strengthen them. The new method will reduce the time necessary to fix each jet from six hours to one.

"Our proposal is a cold work aircraft panel repair technology that significantly saves time, material and labor," said Oleksak.

Together, Oleksak and Burbee have more than 51 years of experience in the fabrication element, said Chief Master Sgt. Chester Bennett, 104MXG equipment maintenance flight chief. "When they told me they had some sort of tool that's going to make it easier on their fabrication troops to get the job done, I completely trusted them," Bennett said.

They presented their idea to the National Guard Bureau's innovation competition panel in June after competing and winning at the local and regional level. They placed second nationally against more than 200 competitors.

They figured out what needed to be fixed and how to save time and money, do it smarter, cheaper and better, said Driscoll, who sat on the competition panel at the state level. "They showed leadership through innovation," he said. "Leadership is not by rank or position. It is by an action. Good ideas know no ranks."

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they had to present their idea to the NGB remotely via video teleconference. "They were part comedy, part serious, all discipline and all Barnestormer," said Col. Tom Bladen, commander of the 104th Fighter Wing. "They rocked it. I couldn't be prouder. They are what makes Barnes great."

One of the Department of Defense's priorities is innovative spirit and mindset, so although their idea placed second in the competition, the Air National Guard will be funding and implementing their process across the entire F-15 fleet.

"Not only does this process save the government money, more importantly, it reduces repair time, which increases aircraft availability and combat readiness," said Lt. Col. Pete Carr, 104MXG commander. "Additionally, this process can be used on other airframes as well, so this process will impact all service branches in the Department of Defense."

"It was an exciting ride throughout the escalating levels of competition, and we never thought we would get as far as we did," said Oleksak. "We would not hesitate to bring any other innovative ideas to this competition."

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