May 28, 2009
Air Force Print News|by SSgt. J.G. Buzanowski
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va. - Surrounded by family and friends, colleagues and fellow Airmen, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Paul Airey was laid to rest here May 28.
More than 400 people came to Ft. Myer, Va., for his funeral service and then on to Arlington for his grave site ceremony. Located in section 34, Chief Airey's marker is close to fellow Airmen, and towering nearby are the spires of the Air Force Memorial.
The Air Force's top enlisted leader, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Rodney McKinley, offered a eulogy on behalf of all Airmen, saying, "Paul Wesley Airey is an icon in the lives of Airmen -- he was a constant friend, true patriot, faithful public servant, dutiful husband and a loving father.
"I can clearly recall standing in the dining facility waiting line during basic training and reading in the basic military training study guide about Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Paul W. Airey," Chief McKinley said. "I remember learning about him being the first Airman selected for this important position. I remember thinking, 'He must have been pretty special to have been picked as the first.'"
Seven former Chief Master Sergeants of the Air Force joined Chief McKinley as well as Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz at the ceremony.
"Chief Airey has always been such a huge part of our heritage," said the 13th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Jim Finch. "Not only was he a mentor to all Airmen, but he especially made a point of spending time with all the Chiefs who followed him in the position. He's the father of our enlisted corps."
Chief Airey's influence is felt by every Airman. During World War II, he spent time as a prisoner of war after his B-24 Liberator was shot down over Europe. Upon his repatriation, he made it a point to return to active duty.
He spent the majority of his 27-year career as a first sergeant. He led a team that developed the weighted Airman promotion system. He advocated heavily for a senior non-commissioned officer academy and was a huge proponent of professional military education.
After his retirement, he was active in professional military organizations, including the Air Force Memorial Foundation and Air Force Sergeants Association, where he provided his guidance, mentorship and opinions.
For Airmen who had the chance to meet Chief Airey, the experience was one that stayed with them, like it did for Tech. Sgt. Shawanda Randolph, a recruiter in nearby Alexandria.
"The first time I met Chief Airey was at Airmen Leadership School, and we were all completely in awe of him," Sergeant Randolph said. "It's because of him that I would one day like to follow in his footsteps and maybe even be a Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force."
For newer Airmen, it was just an honor to be at his funeral service. Airman 1st Class Deborah Vives arrived at Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C., just six days ago, and it was a senior NCO in her office who invited her to come along.
"Getting to be here to honor Chief Airey is an experience I'll always remember," said Airman Vives, a finance specialist with the 11th Comptroller Squadron. "To be in a room with so many chiefs and to see how respectful they all are of Chief Airey is absolutely inspiring to me. I'm new to the Air Force and it makes me look forward to a career with my fellow Airmen."
Chief Airey made every Airman feel valued.
"I counted Paul as a dear friend, but he was more than that to me and many others," Chief McKinley said. "Paul Wesley Airey was an understanding and effective first sergeant. He was an engaged and charismatic leader with a ready smile and a go-to attitude that compelled others to want to follow him.
"Paul was an outstanding colleague, a loyal patriot and a helpful mentor," the chief continued. "He was a great man, but more than a great man, he was an Airman, and our first Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force."
Chief Airey died March 11 at his home in Panama City, Fla. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked people to consider donations to the Air Force Memorial Fund, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Scholarship Fund or the American Cancer Society.