The distance from the Earth to the Moon is 238,900 miles. The circumference of the Earth spans 24,901 miles. The average U.S. Air Force pilot flies thousands of hours in a career.
Then there’s Lt. Col. Barbara Bloeth’s globetrotting stats: A senior health administrator retiring this month after years of service to the 163rd Attack Wing, Bloeth amassed an astonishing 600,000 miles traveling from various cities in the world to her drills at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., as an Air National Guardsmen. (In contrast, the average commute of a traditional Airman is 50 miles.)
For most travelers, air miles are the bragging rights of leisurely sightseeing jaunts; for Bloeth, commutes were necessary to serve her country.
This is her story: In 1983, Barbara Rachford (Bloeth), an immigrant from Germany, enlisted in the Air Force as an occupational therapy technician. After basic training, she recalls helplessly driving through endless rows of cornfields, worried that she would not find her first duty station, Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
Bloeth found Scott AFB on time, foreshadowing of her perseverance and love of the Air Force.
Graduating Basic as Squad Leader, and with highest honors in technical school, Bloeth earned her Bachelors at Scott AFB; added a Master’s degree at her second permanent change of station in Germany; retrained in F-4 Phantom Electronic Countermeasures (missing only three questions, total); and was commissioned as a Medical Service Corps Officer.
Bloeth never stopped achieving. “I get a lot of satisfaction from doing what others did not care about or had difficulty succeeding in,” said Bloeth. “On the flight line, nobody cared if I was male or female. We got the work done.”
For the last 11 years, Bloeth’s commitment landed her at the Air National Guard’s 163d Medical Group (MDG), where her epic commutes took flight. She endured over 1,500 commuting hours, mostly from Germany and Africa, to March ARB, paying for her own air travel at a total of over $100,000.
“If Lt. Col. Bloeth agrees to do something, she will do it 200 percent” said Col. Vincent Dang, former 163rd MDG commander. “She has more satisfaction from doing the job-- and doing it well--than actually getting paid for it.”
Bloeth confessed why she traveled so far: “I really love this unit. There are some awesome people here. I love this wing. To me, the people, the mission. What we do is important.”
Dang added that a special dedication to duty and excellence is in her character—in her nature. “She has a special devotion to the medical group, to the wing, and to the Air Force," Dang said.
During Bloeth’s tenure at the 163rd MDG, she served as the Officer-in-Charge, Medical Logistics officer, Mobility officer, and Officer-in-Charge of Health Services Administration. She finshes her carrer as the 163rd MDG’s senior administrator.
Why did the medical group let Bloeth commute almost 26 times around the Earth?
“That one core trait that she has makes her that effective, that efficient – which allowed us to make that exception to continue her private life and commute half way around the world,” said Col. Martin Louie, 163rd MDG commander. “She was able to accomplish as much (if not more) than a traditional Airman. That is how effective she is. There was never any doubt she could accomplish that!”
Bloeth helped garner the medical group’s first and only Outstanding Inspection, ensuring that no officer performance review was overdue. And, she represented the medical group, wing, and the California National Guard as a Medical Service Corps Officer, Outstanding Health Care Administrator, and Outstanding Company Grade Officer.
“I don’t think Bloeth sleeps at home,” Louie said. “I would send her an e-mail and she consistently responded before I would get up from my seat. At the end of the day, Lt. Col. Bloeth will stand at attention and salute smart. She has all the qualities a good leader needs to have: commands respect and job performance. And she does it with heart.”
Calling it a career after 34 years of combined service, Bloeth smiled and said, naturally: “I want to travel internationally for fun.” She plans to continue sending a Kenyan girl she’s sponsored since 2004 to school. Bloeth is proud to have helped the Kenyan girl’s Masai village build a community school (which Bloeth also financed). She proudly adds, the school is now fully accredited, with cement floors and electricity.
"Lt. Col. Bloeth is whatever the word is in the dictionary that defines committed—and then goes to the next level,” exclaimed Senior Master Sgt. Chris Huss, 163d MDG. “It’s not something she does. It’s something she is. I don’t know if it’s the German part of her, the ‘colonel’ part of her. I don’t think she can even control it. It’s in her DNA.”
Bloeth was posed a final question: “If the 21-year-old Bloeth knew she would spend over $100,000, sacrifice over 1,500 airport/commuting hours, and fly over 600,000 miles to serve in the Air Force, would she have enlisted 34 years ago?”
Bloeth gasped before answering. “If you put it like that, I’m not sure if I would have done it. I just planned the next trip…and the next trip…and the next trip.”
So why did she essentially circumnavigate the globe 26 times to serve the Air Force? “It was the cost of doing what I love.