Retiring ISR Command Chief reflects on servant leadership, 30-year career

  • Published
  • By Capt. Rachel Goodspeed
  • 655th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Wing Public Affairs

As a newly-minted imagery analyst at his first assignment in Schierstein, Germany, a young Airman found himself running into his senior NCO’s office to report in … 20 minutes late. After being told by the Army Sergeant First Class to go settle in and return to chat, the Airman did so expecting to be berated for the mistake.

“Instead, he asked me how I was doing, if my adjustment was going well since I was pretty new to Germany, and if there was anything I needed. He was more concerned about my well-being than anything else,” said Chief Master Sgt. Bohdan Pywowarczuk II, 655th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Wing Command Chief. “That was one of the moments in my career that shaped my leadership style.”

The story is reflective of the servant leadership approach he hopes other military leaders embrace as he prepares to retire this month after 30 years of active and Reserve duty with an official ceremony on Sept. 9, 2023, at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

“To be a chief and command chief requires a commitment and focus change,” he said. “It sounds cliché, but it’s not about you anymore. You have to focus on the balance between the enlisted force, the unit and Air Force Reserve Command. It’s also one thing to be a chief – it’s another to lead chiefs. You can’t use your rank or position – you’re all at the same level. You have to lead at a higher level, be more of an influential leader and lead with mutual respect.”

According to Pywowarczuk, the road to command chief has similar lessons in shaping a personal leadership style.

“Speed bumps are natural in everyone’s career, especially when you reach the staff and master sergeant ranks,” he said. “At staff sergeant, you’re still in your peer group by age, but now you’re the supervisor, so you have to navigate the challenge of maintaining those relationships. When you put on that first chevron, that’s a heavier weight in understanding how to hold people accountable and providing guidance to junior officers to keep in line with the mission and Air Force.”

The Chicago-native’s journey to command chief began in 1988 to continue his family’s legacy of military service.

“In addition to stepping up to do something bigger than myself like my father did in the Army, I’ve always felt a family debt to the U.S. for welcoming my family,” Pywowarczuk said. “I’m first generation born in the U.S. My father was originally from Ukraine and he was classified as a Displaced Person along with my grandparents in Germany at the end of World War II in 1953. They could not go back to the Soviet Union, much less their homeland. The U.S. welcomed my family, so I felt it was my duty to serve.”

Pywowarczuk noted some memorable moments in his career, including watching the fall of the Berlin Wall and deploying in Operations DESERT STORM and DESERT SHIELD. He left active duty in 1992, but after a five-year break, returned to service as a Reservist because he “missed the mission and the people,” he said.

Also notable were the substantial changes to the intelligence community over his career. The transition from analog to digital changed the speed at which intelligence was delivered, and the COVID-19 pandemic brought on its own transformation.

“We used to work on light tables and wet film for imagery, and the transition from tactical to reconnaissance – from RF-4Cs taking 24 hours to get a product to drones delivering immediate real-time images. We used to talk about days to get intelligence out to units, and now we can act almost immediately. Not to mention the abundance of information and what the future holds with AI,” Pywowarczuk said. “As a nation, we will continue to evolve naturally after the pandemic, although we have to acknowledge there are still some scars on the American psyche we need to overcome.”

After tours with INDOPACOM and USAFE/AFAFRICA A2, Pywowarczuk became command chief of the 655th ISRW in 2020. He considers it one of the most challenging and the most rewarding role.

“As an old saying goes, intel is hard – people are harder. There’s a diverse background of people in the intel world, and overall, we have a higher educated force than we did 30 years ago, so you should be adept at negotiating relationships to accomplish the mission,” he said. “I’m incredibly proud of the work we’re doing at the 655 [ISRW] and what we’ve accomplished to set the stage for ISR in AFRC. I have been honored to serve as a Night Owl and command chief, and wish all our Night Owls the best as they continue their exemplary work for our country.”

Related article: