"A Man Of Honor And Commitment To Things Greater Than
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
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
(Aero-News salutes Senior Master Sgt. Sean E. Cobb, Office
of the Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force)