HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — This month, the 419th Fighter Wing welcomes Chief Master Sgt. Paul Strazz, the new command chief.
Strazz enlisted in the Air Force in 1991. After eight years on active duty, he joined the Air Force Reserve and has served in the 419th on and off since 1998. He has also held several positions at Nellis AFB, Nevada, where he currently works a full-time civilian job. As a traditional reservist, the chief plans to serve at least five days a month at Hill AFB. The 419th Public Affairs office recently asked Strazz about his life, work experience, and top priorities.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in Yonkers and raised mostly in Rome, New York. I grew up playing football and lacrosse. My father was an Army infantry soldier in the Guard and an electrician, and my mother was a city registrar. My dad taught me the value of discipline and accountability, while my mom taught me to value friendship and helping people. They taught me to be the best version of myself, and then help others become the best versions of themselves. I sincerely believe the “yin and yang” of what I learned from my parents has helped me to this day.
Why did you join the Air Force?
I grew up next to Griffiss AFB, so I always had a connection to the Air Force. I looked forward to the air shows every year, especially the Thunderbird demonstrations. I went to college for mechanical engineering and after two years decided I didn’t know if that’s what I wanted to do. My dad suggested I talk to Air Force or Navy recruiters because they could offer a skill that I could also use one day outside of the military. I served eight years on active duty working on F-16s as an avionics troop. I did some homework and eventually joined the Air Force Reserve, signing on with the 419th FW in May 1998. It has been a blast of a ride since joining, and I still get the “game day” anticipation when I put on the uniform.
What was it like joining the 419th?
I joined the 419th after serving in the 388th FW at Hill AFB. I was the youngest kid when I walked in there and I had a chip on my shoulder. I thought, “What are these old guys and girls going to teach me? I’ve been working these F-16s for eight years.” Well, I was dead wrong. I got a real education in aircraft maintenance. I still remember all their names, and they were the smartest, most dedicated technicians I had ever met. They epitomized what the Reserve was all about — hard-working people who were masters of their craft, and did it because they loved it. That’s still true today.
I came back to the 419th in July 2018, after eight years working various jobs at Nellis and pursuing my higher education. I was the assistant superintendent in the 419th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here and I couldn’t have been happier. I was glad to see old friends and even more excited to see a new batch of Airmen out there who were motivated and getting after it every day. Now, in my new role, getting the opportunity to serve every Airman in the 419th has me even more motivated, which I didn’t even think could happen.
What do you believe is the most important part of being command chief?
You have to be trustworthy and accessible. You must spend a lot of time in work areas in every part of the wing, talking to Airmen, learning their jobs, and hearing about issues, concerns, and successes. That will give me real, unfiltered feedback so I can be the voice for all our enlisted members. I look forward to earning Airmen’s trust and, in turn, making us an even stronger team.
What are your top priorities?
1. Readiness. It’s imperative that our Airmen understand the “why” of readiness. There was a banner in the old 419th hangar that said, “Practicing for War is Keeping Peace.” I saw it every day, but didn’t really get it until I first deployed and we were under attack. I had to don my gas mask and run to the bunker, which was about 50 yards away. I did it seamlessly and without thought. I learned that once you’re in contact with a foe, it’s too late to train or build a skill. We need readiness to be intuitive.
2. Intentional mentorship and development. We have to set realistic expectations for our people and give feedback so they can grow and become better Airmen, NCOs, and SNCOs. In turn, they will help other Airmen become effective leaders. Our Airmen need to be challenged; they want to be challenged. Through challenging them and empowering them to grow as leaders, we will build a more cohesive team.
3. Innovation. Leaders need to capitalize on the human potential that our Airmen bring to the fight in every way. They are the brightest and most intelligent in the world, so we need to let them have a voice. I’m excited that the Air Force has instituted several innovation initiatives that provide an avenue to drive us forward and ensure we continue to be the best Air Force.
Tell us something we won’t find in your official Air Force biography.
I used to do stand-up and improv comedy when I lived in Utah previously. My favorite times were with the Quick Wits that performed in Syracuse and Ogden. It really helped me to think on my feet and not be afraid to speak in front of crowds, and I made some lifelong friends too. I’m also on the Red Rock Search and Rescue team in Las Vegas, helping to find lost hikers, missing children, and dementia patients. I really enjoy serving our community in that way, especially combined with being outdoors.