The newest brigadier general to run Fairchild Air Force Base wanted to be a zoologist when he was a young man and a professional baseball player when he was even younger.
Then he flew.
Paul “Bill” Essex was a sophomore in college when he went up in an T-33 training jet. He flew upside down. He did loops and dives and asked if people got paid to have this much fun.
The U.S. Air Force told him yes.
Thoughts of being an outfielder or zoologist fell away as quickly as the earth from an ascending jet.
“I made up my mind that flying airplanes was what I wanted to do,” said Essex, 46.
During an elaborate ceremony at Fairchild Monday, the Ohio farm boy traded his colonel’s eagle insignias for the silver stars of a brigadier general. He’s been in the Air Force for 24 years.
It’s a rank few officers achieve - less than one-half of one percent, said Lt. Gen. Charles “Tony” Robertson, who wears three silver stars himself and commands a good chunk of the Air Force from Travis Air Force Base in California.
“If you just look at his biography you’ll know that (he) had one after another fairly incredible job accomplishments,” Robertson said.
Essex has run Fairchild since last November. He took the post at about the same time he was nominated for a general’s star.
“It’s given me a year to think of what I want to say,” Essex said, addressing more than 300 audience members, many standing. “So for the next three and half hours I’m going to tell you everything I’ve been thinking about in that regard for the last year - we’ll have an intermission in 45 minutes.”
The commander of the world’s largest air refueling tanker base has a sense of humor: He only spoke for a few minutes.
He talked about renewing his oath of office. Officers are only required to take the oath once in their career. It is not an oath swearing allegiance to the president or Congress or any other person or group.
The oath calls upon officers to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
“That Constitution we have, that thing we swear to defend, is what makes us a unique country in the history of the world,” Essex said. “When an officer stands up and says they will promise to defend it and bear true faith and allegiance to it, it is a tremendous promise.”
It’s a promise kept with hard work. Fairchild has never slowed down from its fast tempo during the Persian Gulf War, Essex said in an interview after the ceremony.
The base currently has 12 tankers and about 250 personnel deployed to Saudi Arabia. This week, the base will set up a camp and have roughly 400 soldiers practice working in a simulated “high threat environment,” Essex said.
That means soldiers will wear helmets, flak jackets and gas masks. They’ll build sand-bag bunkers and practice loading cargo and living up to the mobility part of “Air Mobility Command,” of which Fairchild is a part.
Next September, Fairchild will go through an Operational Readiness Inspection, something that’s done only once every two or three years.
The inspection will examine how well Fairchild’s people can do their jobs. Essex doesn’t sound worried.
“The thing I’m most proud of is watching the way the men and women of Fairchild go about their day-to-day activity,” he said. “They are proud of what they do. They are good at what they do.”
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