Chief Airey Laid To Rest At Arlington Cemetery
(June 1, 2009)
|ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va. (5/28/2009 - AFNS) --
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
|U.S. Air Force Honor Guard members position the remains of Chief Master Sergeant Paul W. Airey while former Chief Master Sergeant's of the Air Force render salutes during the memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., May 28,
2009. Chief Airey, serving 27 years, became the first Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force April 3, 1967, following his installment by then Secretary of the Air Force Harold Brown and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. McConnell. Chief Airey retired from active duty on Aug. 1, 1970 and died March 11 in Panama City, Fla. Chief Airey and his wife Shirley's remains were buried together at Arlington National Cemetery.
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
"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.
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 Master Sergeant of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley presents a flag to retired Chief Master Sgt. Dale Airey, during the memorial service for his father Chief Master Sgt. Paul W. Airey
at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., May 28, 2009.
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
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
"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
"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
Article by USAF SSgt. J.G. Buzanowski
U.S. Air Force photos by Master Sgt. Stan Parker
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
Air Force News Service
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