Gone West: Paul Wesley Airey, First Chief Master Sergeant Of Air Force | Aero-News Network
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Thu, Mar 12, 2009

Gone West: Paul Wesley Airey, First Chief Master Sergeant Of Air Force

"A Man Of Honor And Commitment To Things Greater Than Himself."

Aero-News has learned former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Paul Wesley Airey died March 11 in Panama City, FL. Airey was the first person to hold the position of CMSAF.

"Chief Airey was an Airman's Airman and one of the true pioneers for our service," said Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff. "He was a warrior, an innovator, and a leader with vision well ahead of his time. His legacy lives today in the truly professional enlisted force we have serving our nation, and for that we owe him a debt of gratitude."

During World War II, Airey flew as a B-24 radio operator and additional duty aerial gunner. On his 28th mission, then-Technical Sergeant Airey and his fellow crewmen were shot down over Vienna, Austria; captured; and held prisoner by the German air force from July 1944 to May 1945. During his time as a prisoner of war he worked tirelessly to meet the basic needs of fellow prisoners... even through a 90-day forced march.

"Chief Airey is the most respected enlisted Airman in the history of the Air Force," said current Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley. "When we speak of today's Airmen standing upon the shoulders of giants as they reach for the sky and stars -- it was upon Paul Airey's shoulders they stood. We will truly miss his leadership, counsel and friendship."

Airey was born in Quincy, MA on December 13, 1923. At age 18 -- shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 -- Airey quit high school to enlist in the Army Air Forces on Nov. 16, 1942. He later earned his high school equivalency certificate through off-duty study.

Chief Airey held the top enlisted position at the USAF from April 3, 1967 to July 31, 1969. During his tenure, he worked to change loan establishments charging exorbitant rates outside the air base gates and to improve low retention during the Vietnam Conflict.

Airey also led a team that laid the foundation for the Weighted Airman Promotion System, a system that has stood the test of time and which is still in use today. He also advocated for an Air Force-level Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy. His vision became reality when the academy opened in 1973, becoming the capstone in the development of Air Force Senior NCOs.

Chief Airey retired August 1, 1970. He continued advocating for Airmen's rights by serving on the boards of numerous Air Force and enlisted professional military organizations throughout the years. He was a member of the Board of Trustees for the Airmen Memorial Museum, a member of the Air Force Memorial Foundation and the Air University Foundation.

After retirement, Chief Airey lived in Panama City with his wife Shirley, who passed away in 2001.

"I have seen many changes as we progressed from simple air power to today's aerospace force," Airey said at the Air Force's 20th Anniversary ceremony in 1967. "The enlisted corps has kept pace with that progress, for it is pride and dedication that keep enlisted men at their posts, not the lure of an easy life and secure future. It is the desire to serve our country that motivates today's Air Force."

On the north wall of the Air Force Memorial in Washington DC, Chief Airey's thoughts on Airmen are immortalized: "When I think of the enlisted force, I see dedication, determination, loyalty and valor." The Air Force Association honored Airey with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.

Michael Donley, Secretary of the Air Force, said Airey's passing is mourned by Airmen around the globe. "From his first days flying World War II combat missions in Europe, to his work improving the welfare of enlisted personnel as the first Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, and his recent role as a mentor to today's Airmen, Chief Airey was a man of honor and commitment to things greater than himself."

(Aero-News salutes Senior Master Sgt. Sean E. Cobb, Office of the Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force)

FMI: www.af.mil

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