Robert Bartkowiak, U.S. Air Force, active duty

Lackland AFB, San Antonio, Texas: Basic boot camp

Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas: Biomedical school

Biomedical Equipment Technician: The Air Force operates medical equipment all over the world, from Level 1 trauma units to remote field clinics. No matter where the location may be, the Air Force requires trained and qualified technicians to staff them. If any equipment breaks down or fails, the Air Force will have a biotech available to troubleshoot, repair or replace the malfunctioning equipment.

Airman Robert Bartkowiak is the son of Robert and Nannette Bartkowiak. The family resides on the Fredonia-Stockton Road. Bartkowiak is a 2012 graduate of Fredonia High School. Writing his story is especially important to me, because he is the husband of my granddaughter, Jordyn Mancuso.

This story started last year, around Father’s Day, when the family was together discussing this young couple’s future. The original plan was that Bartkowiak would graduate from a post-secondary institution, but while weighing the options and considering the student loan debt that came with an education, the military and what it could offer came into the conversation. I suggested that he contact the Air Force.

Bartkowiak agreed and contacted the appropriate office. This young man is now a proud United States Airman. He is a married man, living with his wife in a new apartment, driving a new car. He has dental and medical insurance for himself and his wife. He is attending biomedical school, and when he completes his course work, he will have close to 60 college credit hours. He will not have exorbitant student loans to pay off. When his military obligations have been fulfilled, he will have over $50,000 for his education.

No grandfather could receive a better Father’s Day gift than knowing his precious granddaughter is being well taken care of by a responsible and loving husband.

Bartkowiak, a dutiful Airman, is learning what it takes to maintain the Air Force’s medical equipment, used to protect and treat our soldiers, Marines and sailors. Thank you, Robert Bartkowiak, for serving. Thank you, Jordyn, for supporting your Airman. Robert Bartkowiak is our hero of the week.

– John Fedyszyn, Vietnam Veteran

A Father’s Day to Remember

By Nannette Bartkowiak

It all started at the Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse and Veteran’s Park Museum last Father’s Day, June 17, 2012. When everyone woke up in the Bartkowiak household last Father’s Day, plans were under way for a picnic. But no one knew that day what one sentence spoken by a friend would do to change a young person’s life.

Robert W. Bartkowiak was graduating from Fredonia High School at the end of the month and was enrolled at SUNY Fredonia for the Fall semester 2012 to pursue a career in engineering. This was a natural progression for a “Fredonia local,” as he had attended the 3-1-3 program at SUNY Fredonia during his senior year and was following in his father’s footsteps. Robert’s father graduated from Fredonia in 1976.

It was a pleasant day, warm with the sun shining. The Bartkowiak family hadn’t had a picnic outside of their own backyard for years, but decided it would be a nice way to celebrate Father’s Day. It was made more special because it was Rob’s idea. The picnic was to be followed by a tour of the lighthouse and museum.

The picnic attendees included Rob’s parents, his girlfriend Jordyn and her grandparents John and Darlene Fedyszyn. Fedyszyn’s name is common in the OBSERVER as he does research for and writes the weekly column honoring veterans who have served our country. As he himself was a Vietnam veteran, he makes it his responsibility to not allow people’s dedicated service to our country be forgotten. He volunteers also during the summer season at the park to give tours to those coming from all over the United States to view the park. That Father’s Day was also the first time Rob’s parents and Jordyn’s grandparents met, adding to the uniqueness of one sentence changing a young man’s plans for the future.

During the conversation that took place during that picnic lunch, Rob’s future plans for college were discussed in depth. Fedyszyn, who still lives and breathes memories of the Marines and what the opportunity of serving in any branch of the service brings to young men and women, turned to Rob and said, “Why are you going to attend four years of college and be left with debt when you could join the service and have your college paid for?”

Rob’s parents, knowing what that “debt” entailed as they had already helped two sons financially achieve what was necessary to graduate from college, looked at each other and said, “Yes Rob, why are you going to college when you could join the service and have your college paid for?”

At that point they were only viewing their son joining the service as a way to stay debt-free, a difficult challenge in this day and age, and actually Rob’s parents had no idea what joining the service entailed. But they were soon to find out.

With one week left until Fredonia High School’s 2012 graduation, there was a lot of activity going on, but a quick phone call the next morning to an Air Force recruiter in Jamestown revealed that if Rob had any interest in joining the service the first step was to take a test called the “ASVAB” (the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). The ASVAB is an enlistment exam used by all branches of the United States Military.

The scoring on this test determines your educational path and job placement while in the military. It turned out the testing was being offered that afternoon at 4 p.m. in Jamestown, and if Rob was willing, all he needed to do was show up an hour early, meet with the recruiter, show identification and fill out the paperwork necessary to take the exam. It happened so smoothly that at the time it seemed to be fate. After all, it was only a test and there was no commitment, so what would it hurt? Rob ended up scoring well on the test; the Air Force was interested in him and the rest is history.

Bartkowiak spent the summer preparing for what lay ahead, with a departure date set and an upcoming eight weeks of “BMT” (Basic Military Training) at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas on Dec. 3. During the few months prior to his leaving he scoured the Air Force website, watched YouTube videos of others’ experiences in the service and spoke with veterans who have served, trying to prepare himself for what would lie ahead in BMT, better known as “boot camp.” Some day there will be an article about Rob as a veteran and details of his military life will be shared, but for now it will suffice to say it was a long eight weeks with homesickness during Christmas and New Year’s, and a lot of learning about the life of an Airman. Being physically fit was important, but being mentally prepared was what Rob felt was the key to making it through. As Rob’s parents, when we attended his graduation from BMT on Feb. 1, we weren’t sure what we would find. Over the eight-week period of BMT, there were only eight 15-minute phone calls and two letters from Rob. After the Air Force coin ceremony, which is when the recruits graduate to becoming United States Airmen, we were allowed to have our first hugs and conversation with Rob. What we found was a grown-up young man dedicated to the path that lay ahead and thankful for the choice he had made as he answered the question, “Why are you going to attend four years of college and be left with debt when you could join the service and have your college paid for?” We will never know how in that eight-week period of BMT our young son became a man, but it was apparent that he had, and for that we were thankful.

A little background and the future plans for Rob with the Air Force: Prior to entering the service, Rob married his high school sweetheart Jordyn on Oct. 6, 2012. Entering the service as a married couple has allowed Rob support that single service men go without and he feels it has been important to his success. Rob will serve in the Air Force for six years and hopes to return home once a year to be a part of a local recruitment effort, “RAP” (Recruiter’s Assistance Program), so that he can share his experiences and encourage others who may be interested in joining the service. Rob is presently in a 10-month technical training program for biomedical equipment repair at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, working alongside those in the Army and Navy branches of the service in this specialized field.

After a time of education and hands-on training, he will be stationed at the Keesler Air Force base in Biloxi, Miss., for at least a two-year period of time. He will most likely see at least one year of service overseas during his six-year enlistment, and of course, there will be deployment as his services are needed elsewhere.

So for this 2013 Father’s Day, we won’t be having a picnic at the Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse and Veteran’s Park Museum with Rob, but instead we will stand proud and look back on the decision that our son made on Father’s Day 2012 that will forever make us proud.