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REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (May 20, 2021) – Being a Soldier was a lifelong dream that was almost cut short for U.S. Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center Experimental Test Pilot CW5 Paul Steele.

Enlisting in the Arizona National Guard upon high school graduation, Steele followed that with four years of ROTC at Arizona State University, where he was named a distinguished military graduate. After college, he immediately entered flight school. It was the career he always wanted - until the large scale military drawdown in the 1990’s happened.

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Steele was working as an operations research system analyst at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, at that time and was offered the same position as a civilian. Seeing the handwriting on the wall and that 50% of his fellow Soldiers would be transitioning out, he accepted. But Steele always planned to be a career officer and when the opportunity came to return to active duty as a warrant office aviator, he jumped at it.

“And now I am looking at 41 years of service to the nation – and looking to retirement next year,” Steele said.

It is a service that took him all over the world – to Afghanistan, to Germany during the Cold War, and then back to Germany after the fall of the Soviet Union, a markedly different assignment from the first time.

“My first time in Germany, we patrolled the Czechoslovakian border. My second time, we did our pre-deployment gunnery in what used to be Czechoslovakia, so that was enjoyable seeing Europe open up."

Prior to being stationed at DEVCOM AvMC, Steele finished an assignment in the United Kingdom as an exchange test pilot at MOD Boscombe Down, a Royal Air Force Base in Wiltshire, England. Steele said that he and his wife enjoyed touring the British Isles during their time in England and planned to travel to Greece.

Then COVID-19 hit.

Steele had to request a special exception just to be allowed to transition to his next duty assignment.

“It was like ‘Escape from New York’ to get everything in place to come back to the States because I was at the end of an extended three-year tour and as an Apache test pilot, they were anxious for me to come back."

Looking back at his military career, Steele said that what benefitted him the most was taking advantage of all of the military educational programs available to him. If he had any advice for the young Soldier of today putting on a uniform for the first time, it would be to take advantage of all the education programs available – military and civilian.

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Now that retirement is within the horizon, Steele said that next year after taking off the uniform for the last time, he and his wife plan to settle in Huntsville close to his son, who works for NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. After having a bird’s eye view of the world from a cockpit, he looks forward to just being home.

“Complete retirement, house husband,” Steele said with a smile.


The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.