The words “Living Legend” are bandied about far too much in our modern times, often reducing their meaning to a mere cliché. So, it’s refreshing and awe-inspiring to encounter an individual who truly deserves that accolade and more.
CMSgt Paul Koester (Ret.) is one such man. We were privileged to have CMSgt Koester take some time out of his still hectic schedule to speak with us about his extraordinarily long and illustrious career of service.
Q. Please tell us about your recent career history since retiring from active service.
A. I currently work for Wilcox Ind out of Newington, NH as the Director of Air Force Operations. With a 40% travel schedule, this keeps me pretty busy. However, when I’m not on the road, I run a Gunsmith business in Bozeman, MT. Seems like every resident has an elk rifle and a bird shotgun.
Q. As a leader what are some of the characteristics and qualities you have endeavored to cultivate and instill in those you have trained and worked alongside?
A. Be the example not the exception. As light and lean as our military services have become, there’s simply no fluff. Each soldier, sailor, airman or marine should expect to carry his weight…and then some.
The Global War on Terror has been going on now for 18 years. This is the longest our nation has ever been engaged in a sustained conflict. We soon will have retiring service members that have spent their entire career downrange. Leaders absolutely have to be keenly aware of the consequences of this long-term stress.
Q. You are the longest serving PJ in the history of the Air Force. What motivated you continue to serve in that role for so many years?
A. Serving this long was never a plan. I enlisted in 1974 for a four-year stint in order to work as a jet engine mechanic. However, once I found out about the Pararescue career field, I was hooked. After 11 years on active duty, I transferred to the Air National Guard, where I assumed I would stay until I retired. However, the events of September 11, 2001 left a lasting impact on me. I came back on active duty in March of 2003 solely to deploy and do what PJ’s do best. In 2008 I was promoted to CMSgt and two assignments later I hit the maximum retirement age of 60.
Q. You have mentioned the scarcity of resources and personnel currently available in this field, what steps do you think could be taken to improve this situation?
A. That’s the million-dollar question for the recruiters. Only one out of every 100 applicants will actually complete the two-and-half year pipeline. Finding a young man who is essentially a tri-athlete with a sense of duty and patriotism is no easy task. The career field has been wrestling with this challenge for decades.
Q. Who are some of the people that have inspired and helped you along your amazing journey?
A. Early on, I had some Senior Enlisted Advisors that were absolute legends in the career field. A few were Air Force Cross recipients and had completed multiple tours in Vietnam. I also had the privilege of serving under a General Officer while I was in AFSOC that is definitely one of my heroes.
Q. Where are some of your favorite places on earth?
A. Israel, Switzerland and Hawaii
Q. Are there still some things left on your “Bucket List” to fulfil?
A. Nope – emptied that thing years ago. Keeping up with four Grandkids is enough excitement.
Q. Can you describe for us one rescue mission that sticks out in your mind above others?
A. Elmendorf AFB Alaska was my first and favorite rescue assignment. I believe I participated in at least 75 missions over the course of four years. Between the extensive mountain ranges, vast oceans and sheer remoteness of the state, every mission was breathtaking.
Q. What advice would you give to your 18 year old self if you could?
A. Be the example, not the exception!
Please check out the following links for further details about CMSgt Koester’s remarkable career history.