Military History

Paul Woodford: Military History

  • June-September 1973: Officer Training School, Lackland AFB (San Antonio, Texas)
    • Primary flight training (T-41/Cessna 172)
    • Graduated as second lieutenant
  • September 1973-December 1974: Undergraduate Pilot Training, Vance AFB (Enid, Oklahoma)
    • Flew T-37B primary jet trainer, T-38A advanced jet trainer
    • Distinguished graduate, winner of Academic Training Award
  • January-March 1975: Pilot Instructor Training, Randolph AFB (San Antonio, Texas)
    • Received instructor training in T-37B
  • March 1975-March 1978: T-37 instructor pilot, 8th Flying Training Squadron, Vance AFB (Enid, Oklahoma)
    • Primary duty: training UPT students to fly the T-37
    • Other duties: check pilot, school secretary, executive officer to the wing deputy director of operations
    • Attended USAF Squadron Officer School, Maxwell AFB (Montgomery AL)
    • Promoted to first lieutenant, then captain
  • March-July 1978: Fighter Lead-In Training, Holloman AFB (Alamagordo, New Mexico)
    • Practiced basic air-to-air and air-to-ground fighter techniques in the AT-38
  • July-November 1978: F-15 Replacement Training Unit, Luke AFB (Phoneix, Arizona)
    • F-15A flight training
  • November-December 1978: Advanced F-15 training, Langley AFB (Hampton, Virginia)
    • Practiced overwater operations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) procedures, European flight standards
  • December 1978-March 1982: Squadron F-15 pilot, 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron, Camp New Amsterdam (Soesterberg, the Netherlands)
    • Line pilot, flight lead, instructor pilot, test pilot
    • Supervisor of flying, project officer for two major deployments
    • Investigating officer for major F-15 mishap
    • Flew F-15A and F-15C models
    • Attended radar missile systems course at Raytheon, Lowell MA
    • Squadron radar missile systems instructor
    • Participated in AIM-9 missile test at Eglin AFB FL
    • Participated in AIM-7 missile test at White Sands NM
  • March 1982-June 1985: Squadron F-15 pilot, 43rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, Elmendorf AFB (Anchorage, Alaska)
    • Flight lead, instructor pilot, chief instructor pilot, chief test pilot
    • Project officer for squadron conversion from F-4E to F-15A, designed training programs and conversion schedule
    • Supervisor of flying, alert force commander, detachment commander on deployments, mission commander for Red Flag deployments
    • Investigating officer for major F-15 mishap
    • Participated in AIM-7 missile test at Eglin AFB FL
    • Mission Commander at two Red Flag deployments to Nellis AFB NV
    • Led first USAF intercept of Soviet Bear-H bomber/cruise missile carriers
    • Wing commander’s executive officer
    • Summary court officer for wing commander (killed in training accident in Korea)
    • Promoted to major
  • July 1985-March 1986: Student, Armed Forces Staff College (Norfolk, Virginia)
  • March 1986 – May 1987: Joint staff officer, United States Readiness Command, MacDill AFB (Tampa, Florida)
    • J3 readiness officer, tracked readiness of USAF and Army forces assigned to USREDCOM
    • Lead project officer for experimental readiness tracking & analysis program, briefed program to Deputy SecDef in Washington DC, SACEUR in Germany, CINCUNC in Korea
  • May 1987-March 1989: Joint staff officer, United States Special Operations Command, MacDill AFB (Tampa, Florida)
    • J3 readiness officer, tracked readiness of USAF, Army, Navy SOF units assigned to USSOCOM
    • Lead project officer for multiservice special operations forces readiness study for Deputy SecDef
  • March 1989-June 1989: F-15 Requalification training, Luke AFB (Phoenix, Arizona)
  • July 1989-January 1992: wing F-15 pilot, 18th Tactical Fighter Wing, Kadena AB (Okinawa, Japan)
    • Flight lead, supervisor of flying, alert force commander
    • Assistant operations officer, 44th Tactical Fighter Squadron
    • Wing plans officer
    • Wing training officer
    • Major deployments to Korea, the Philippines, Guam, Australia
    • Promoted to lieutenant colonel
  • January 1992-June 1995: Chief of Flight Safety, Pacific Air Forces, Hickam AFB (Honolulu, Hawaii)
    • Flight safety chief for Pacific Air Forces aircraft and flying programs in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Australia
    • Project officer for command implementation of crew resource management training
  • June 1995-July 1997: Staff officer, 99th Range Squadron, Nellis AFB (Las Vegas, Nevada)
    • Chief of ranges, simulated enemy threat systems, and target maintenance
    • Project officer for USAF bid to renew lease of Nellis ranges from US congress
    • Retired July 1, 1997 – a little over 24 years of service

Major Awards & Decorations

  • USAF Commendation Medal
  • Defense Commendation Medal (for joint service)
  • USAF Meritorious Service Medal (w/three oak leaf clusters)
  • Defense Meritorious Service Medal (for joint service)


When I joined the USAF and went to officer training school and then pilot training, my country was still in Vietnam and I expected to see combat after graduation. Early in pilot training, however, the war ended and flying assignments grew scarce. I was lucky: I was “plowed back” into Air Training Command as a T-37 instructor pilot. It turned out to be a grand assignment, and I wouldn’t have gone on to the F-15 three years later without it.

The F-15 was and is the ultimate air-to-air fighter, designed to sweep the skies of enemy aircraft—and so far it has a perfect record of doing so (104 kills and no losses). As you can see from the outline above, I’ve done a lot of things in the USAF besides flying the F-15—I was a primary flight training instructor, a joint staff officer, a chief of flight safety, and a range maintenance officer.

Learning to fly the F-15 at Luke AFB in Phoenix was the most difficult and demanding thing I’ve ever done. Going from a simple training aircraft (the T-37) to the most sophisticated front-line fighter … a single-seat fighter at that … meant having to learn a lot of new things, and fast. Radar, electronic countermeasures, aerial refueling, weapons and all their various capabilities and limitations … it was like drinking from a fire hose! To make things even harder, I decided to quit smoking during F-15 training. I’m glad I did now, but at the time I really had my hands full.

It’s extremely rare for a pilot to stay in the cockpit throughout his career. Most of us have to pay our dues on non-flying staff tours, and I was no exception. I was luckier than most, because I was appointed to the joint staff, working with other services. Very few AF officers get this opportunity. At MacDill AFB in Tampa, I worked for two joint commands: USREDCOM and USSOCOM. US Readiness Command went away with the Goldwater-Nichols reforms of the mid-80s, and US Special Operations Command took its place. In both jobs I was in the J3 directorate—the operations directorate—where things happen. I traveled all over the world and briefed some fairly important people. I did so well in USSOCOM that an Army four-star general personally saw to it that the AF promoted me to lieutenant colonel.

There were a lot of high points in my flying career … it’s hard to identify anything that wasn’t a high point … but I’m especially proud of these moments:

  • Making four-ship flight lead and instructor pilot during my first fighter tour in Europe. The competition included some of the best fighter pilots in the Air Force, several of whom are general officers today, and it was the first time I realized I was becoming a good fighter pilot.
  • Planning the flight, then leading a four-ship of older F-15s from the Netherlands to Eglin AFB in Florida, refueling six times as we crossed the Atlantic. Three days later picking up brand new F-15Cs at the McDonnell-Douglas factory in St Louis, then leading the flight back over the Atlantic to the Netherlands.
  • Being the unit F-15 functional check flight test pilot during two flying tours—I learned more about the airplane from those flights than any others.
  • Being the first F-15 pilot picked to go to Alaska to convert the unit there from F-4s to F-15s—I was the “hired gun” and had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to set a unit up right. It was hard, hard work but well worth it.
  • Intercepting Soviet reconnaissance and bomber aircraft in the Arctic. When we went to war in the Gulf in 1990 I was stationed in the Pacific theater, and no Pacific forces were allow to deploy to the Gulf (Korea was too dangerous at the time and we needed to keep our Pacific forces in place against that threat). So intercepting those Russian planes was the closest I’d ever come to combat!
  • Being mission commander for 40 or more fighters and attack aircraft during a Red Flag exercise in Nevada—and winning the “war” that day.
  • Flying in NATO in Europe when the cold war was at its hottest. Flying in Alaska, the most beautiful flying imaginable. Flying all over the Pacific.
  • Leading ten F-15s home to Okinawa from a three-week deployment to RAAF Darwin, Australia, and having Donna and Polly meet me on the flight line after parking my jet.

Good times. Not just for me, but for all of us. It wasn’t just my military career, it was our military career, and It’s impossible to separate our military career from our personal, family life.

When I was growing up I always appreciated having lived in Europe, and both our children feel the same way.

Polly doesn’t remember her years in Holland all that well, but when she was there she went to a Dutch school and spoke the language perfectly. Camp New Amsterdam was an American enclave within a Dutch air base, and it is the only base I’ve ever been assigned to that didn’t have a military ghetto outside the main gate. When we were there, there was no base housing for officers and troops—we all lived in the Dutch community, here and there within a 25-mile radius of the air base. It was marvelous. While we were in Holland we took several family trips, to England, Scotland, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Italy. Those trips to Italy were the best—Donna has family in Vittorio Veneto, up in the mountains NW of Venice, and we got to know the Italian side pretty well. In one two-week trip to Vittorio Veneto, Polly started speaking Italian too!

I was the one who wanted the Alaska assignment, and worked hard to get it. Donna and the kids weren’t so sure about Alaska—after three years in Europe they wanted to get back to the States, and Alaska, by their reckoning, was something else: in the States, you can get in your car and drive to other states. But once we got our feet on the ground in Anchorage, we all fell in love with Alaska. I think if I found a job in Anchorage, Donna would willingly pack up and move there again. We had a ski slope with lifts and a lodge right there on base, and during our last winter season Donna and I rented a big condo down at the Alyeska ski resort on a time-share deal—we had it one Friday and Saturday each month—and on that weekend half the squadron, husbands and wives, would come down to stay with us and ski. We weren’t able to travel that much as a family because it was so expensive to get from Alaska to anywhere else, but Donna did manage to come with me to one of the Red Flag exercises in Las Vegas, and just before we were reassigned we flew to Hawaii.

Our time in Tampa was nice too—I don’t know if I could stand south Florida today, with the crowding and the high humidity—but we liked living there. We bought our first house in Tampa, so we didn’t travel as much as we used to, but we did make a few trips down to Key West, which we loved. I bought my first Harley in Tampa, and spent many a weekend riding from one coast to the other.

Donna will say her favorite location was Japan. She got more out of that tour than any of us, I think. She had many friends there, American and Okinawan, and stayed busy the whole time. We didn’t think we’d travel very much, but when Polly’s swim team was invited to compete in Hong Kong we found out that air travel in Asia was pretty cheap, and after that we started traveling, to Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, “mainland” Japan, and Korea. If we’d have stayed longer I’d have tried to drag Donna down to Australia (I finally did take her there, but not until 2000, after I’d retired).

My favorite tour was Hawaii. Donna, after Japan, was once again ready to go home to the real States, so she was a little restive in the islands. But I had a wonderful time and have nothing but good memories. I’d go back in a heartbeat—if anyone were willing to pay me enough so that I could afford to live there!

We went to Nellis AFB in Las Vegas to wrap things up and get on with our post-AF lives. We knew there were good opportunities in the area, so we bought a house in town—it was the house we should have kept, and we wish we had. Anyway, after I retired I had two good offers, neither one in Las Vegas, and we wound up in Tucson, which (as has pretty much everything in our lives) turned out to be a wonderful place, and we hope to stay here for the rest of our lives.

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