By Command Chief Master Sgt. Richard T. Small
Air Force Space Command
On May 28, I attended the internment of our first Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Paul W. Airey at Arlington National Cemetery. There has never been a day I’ve been more proud to be an American Airman.
The chapel was filled with family, senor Air Force leaders, current and former chief master sergeants of the Air Force, the secretary of the Air Force, the chief of staff of the Air Force and many other active duty, guard, reserve and retired Airmen. Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Roger McKinley led a heart-felt eulogy and video tribute to Chief Airey which painted a vivid portrait of lifelong service to country and family. It was a fitting memorial to a great leader, senior noncommissioned officer and Airman.
As we stepped from the chapel, we saw Chief Airey’s flag draped coffin atop a horse-drawn caisson led by the Old Guard and followed immediately by the Air Force Band and Honor Guard. It was an impressive sight. From general officers to chief master sergeant’s, from captains to Airmen first class, the street was awash in beautiful Air Force blue. I, along with so many others, followed the procession for the better part of a mile, slowly winding our way along tree-lined amid some of our nation’s most hallowed ground. I couldn’t help but notice row upon row of gravestones laid out in absolute precision – the disciplined professionalism that is the hallmark of our armed forces depicted even in our national military cemeteries.
The procession slowly came to a stop at the bottom of a hill in the shade of several oak trees, the Air Force Memorial a distant glance away. As the band and Honor Guard formed-up, I noted a large assembly of Airmen on the slope of the hilltop above the grave site, all there to pay respects to the chief. They were impeccable aligned with a diamond-wearing chief standing out front, a reminder of Chief Airey’s long service as a first sergeant.
A few words were spoken and the firing party released three volleys; a B-25 bomber passed gracefully overhead and Taps was played. We slowly began to file away after the Honor Guard folded the flag and Chief McKinley presented it to Chief Airey’s family.
As I walked toward a waiting bus, it became to clear to me that Chief Airey was laid to rest in good company. Resting in a peaceful valley under the shade of a great oak in the lush fields of Arlington, our first chief master sergeant of the Air Force is flanked by Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen, all of whom – like Chief Airey – offered their selfless service to our nation.
The legacy of Chief Master Sgt. Paul W. Airey lives on in every Airman who serves today and will continue to live on through those who follow in his footsteps. May Airmen who so proudly wear chevrons always strive to follow Chief Airey’s example and embody his words which are immortalized on our Air Force Memorial: “When I think of the enlisted force, I see dedication, determination, loyalty and valor.”
Amen chief, amen.