Know Your Military

Vice Chairman Selva Retires; Ends 39-Year Air Force Career

July 31, 2019 | BY Jim Garamone

Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva has ended his 39-year military career, retiring during a ceremony at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland after four years of service as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Marine speaks at lectern about Air Force officer seated nearby.
Selva Retirement
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks about his Air Force wingman Gen. Paul J. Selva, the vice chairman, during Selva’s retirement ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, Md., July 31, 2019.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith, DOD
VIRIN: 190731-D-SV709-0316

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hosted today's ceremony, held in a hangar on the historic base and went back to the roots of Selva's service. On one side of the stage was a Gulfstream jet, and on the other was a Huey helicopter wearing Air Force colors. During the ceremony, the audience of family, co-workers, friends and well-wishers could hear jets taking off and landing.

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper and Selva's Joint Chiefs colleagues attended the ceremony.

President Barack Obama selected Selva as vice chairman in 2015, and he took office as the 10th vice chairman on Aug. 1. "I was certainly honored by the selection, I was also aware of the challenges and the expectations ahead," Dunford said in his remarks. "It was about that time that Henry Kissinger described the current security environment as the most volatile and complex since World War II. And the world hasn't disappointed Paul and I."

Two men standing.
Leader Attention
Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is retired from active military service by Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, Md., July 31, 2019.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith, DOD
VIRIN: 190731-D-SV709-0234

Since the two men assumed their duties, they have had to confront the resurgence of great power competition with China and Russia. They had to deal with nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran. They had to help put together the coalition that eliminated the ISIS terror organization's physical caliphate. 

The two also had to deal with building a new National Defense Strategy, a new National Military Strategy, the Nuclear Posture Review and more. They had to work closely with Congress to get the funds so the military could get out of the readiness hole it was in following sequestration spending cuts. They had to power through discussions on closing the government and the effects continuing resolutions in the absence of full budgets had on the military.

While Dunford had worked with Selva before 2015, he very quickly developed a new appreciation for his Air Force wingman.

Three men standing on a stage.
Retirement Honors
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman, stand during Selva’s retirement ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., July 31, 2019.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith, DOD
VIRIN: 190731-D-SV709-0281

"In 2015, if I had made a list of the qualities that our nation needed in the vice chairman," Dunford said. "I might have said we needed an inspirational leader who can build teams and partnerships within the department, across the interagency and on the Hill," Dunford said. "We needed an unselfish leader who didn't care who got the credit, so long as the job got done. We needed someone with broad operational experience and an understanding of joint warfighting. I might have said we needed someone of vision to help us meet the current challenges that we face, while preparing us to meet the challenges that are over the horizon."

The Defense Department needed someone who could lead change, he added — someone who is "a leader of character, who would serve as an example to all in uniform."

"I wasn't smart enough to write that list four years ago, but I now have a good feel for what we need in the vice chairman: And I also know that four years ago, we picked exactly the right leader in Paul Selva," Dunford said.

Dunford presented Selva the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, and he presented the general's wife, Ricki Selva, the Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award.

Gen. Paul Selva and his wife, Ricki, hold hands.
Husband and Wife
Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is retired from active military service by Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, Md., July 31, 2019.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith, DOD
VIRIN: 190731-D-SV709-0535

Selva said his service encompassed just over 11,000 days. "And that means that there are 11,000 stories that could be told," he added.

The vice chairman told only one story, and that event happened yesterday.  "As I was cleaning out my official emails, I got an email from a young man who has been an inspiration," he said. "Chris was a senior airman, and I got a chance to meet him because the chief master sergeant in the Pentagon said, 'You need to meet this young man.'

"When I met him, Chris was confined to a wheelchair," he continued. "He had broken every bone in his body. He took my hand and he said, 'Just like you, I'm an airman. And I will get back to flying status.'"

Three people stand in front of a crowd.
Leaders Stand
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks about his Air Force wingman Gen. Paul J. Selva, the vice chairman, during Selva’s retirement ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, Md., July 31, 2019.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith, DOD
VIRIN: 190731-D-SV709-0399

Selva said no one believed that was possible. The young senior airman weighed 92 pounds when the general met him.

"Two years later, he sent me a photograph, standing in front of his aircraft, fully mission ready as an instructor flight engineer," Selva said. "And yesterday, I got a note that said, 'You and I, 10 years later, will retire from our Air Force in the same month,' and then he said thank you.

"I sent him a note back last night and I said, it's our job to thank you. It is our job to thank all of you for serving our nation," Selva said. "It's our job to lead. It's our job to be accountable. So today, I'm accountable to Chris and to every one of you."