Paul W. Airey

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Paul Wesley Airey
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Paul Wesley Airey
1st Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (1967–1969)
Born (1923-12-13)December 13, 1923
Quincy, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died March 11, 2009(2009-03-11) (aged 85)
Panama City, Florida, U.S.
Buried Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United States United States
Years of service 1940–1970 (30 years)
Awards See below

Paul Wesley Airey (December 13, 1923 – March 11, 2009) was adviser to Secretary of the Air Force Richard Campbell and Air Force Chief of Staff General John P. McConnell. He was the first Chief Master Sergeant appointed to this ultimate noncommissioned officer position and was selected from among 21 major command (MAJCOM) nominees to become the first Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. He was formally installed by Gen McConnell on April 3, 1967.

Military career[edit]

The Chief was born December 13, 1923, in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He entered military service in 1940 after two years of high school in Quincy, Massachusetts. In 1948 he obtained his high school equivalency certificate, and later completed 62 semester hours of study at McKendree College, Lebanon, Illinois. His military schooling included courses in communication mechanics and personnel management. He is a graduate of the Air Defense Command Noncommissioned Officer Academy. The academy was renamed the Paul W. Airey NCO Academy on December 13, 2006, in his honor.[1]

Airey joined the Army Air Forces in 1940. During World War II, he was an aerial gunner and radio operator on B-24 Liberator bombers and is credited with 28 combat missions in Europe. In July 1944, on his 28th combat mission, a bombing run over Vienna, Austria, Airey was forced to bail out of his flak-damaged aircraft over Hungary. He was captured by the German military and was taken to Stalag Luft IV, a prisoner of war camp near the Baltic Sea for Allied Airmen. In February 1945, Airey and 6,000 fellow POW's were forced to march 400 miles to another camp near Berlin as the Soviet Red Army got closer. He was liberated in May 1945 by British forces. By that time, Airey had dysentery and weighed less than 100 pounds.[2]

Airey reenlisted in the Air Force after completing a recuperation leave. He went to Naha Air Base, Okinawa, where he was responsible for radio repair. During the Korean War he was awarded the Legion of Merit, unusual for an enlisted person, for saving more than a million dollars in electronic equipment that would have deteriorated without the corrosion control assembly line he developed.

Airey spent 14 of his 30-year career as a First Sergeant.

Before he became Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, he was assigned to the Air Defense Command's 4756th Civil Engineering Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, where he was the unit's First Sergeant. He retired on August 1, 1970. Airey died in Panama City, Florida, on March 11, 2009.

Awards and decorations[edit]

United States Air Force Enlisted Aircrew Badge.svg US Air Force Enlisted Aircrew Badge
Personal decorations
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Width-44 crimson ribbon with a pair of width-2 white stripes on the edges
Legion of Merit with bronze oak leaf cluster
Width-44 crimson ribbon with two width-8 white stripes at distance 4 from the edges. Meritorious Service Medal
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Medal with bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Force Commendation Medal
Unit awards
Presidential Unit Citation
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
Service awards
Prisoner of War Medal
Air Force Good Conduct Medal
Army Good Conduct Medal
Campaign and service medals
American Campaign Medal
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four bronze service stars
World War II Victory Medal
Bronze star
Width=44 scarlet ribbon with a central width-4 golden yellow stripe, flanked by pairs of width-1 scarlet, white, Old Glory blue, and white stripes
National Defense Service Medal with bronze service star
Korean Service Medal
Service, training, and marksmanship awards
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Force Longevity Service Award with four bronze oak leaf clusters
NCO Professional Military Education Graduate Ribbon
Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon
Foreign awards
United Nations Service Medal for Korea

Professional memberships and associations[edit]

Effective dates of promotion[edit]

Rank Date
E9 USAF CMSAF 1967-1991.png Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force April 3, 1967


Military offices
New title Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force
Succeeded by
Donald L. Harlow


  1. ^ "Paul W. Airey NCO Academy" (PDF). Air Combat Command. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 16, 2014. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  2. ^ "70 Air Force Birthday". Retrieved 2017-05-30. 

 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Air Force document "Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Paul W. Airey biography".