Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy with wife Paula and sons Caleb and Colby. (Air Force)
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Paula Roy, wife of Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Roy, makes sure to ask Air Force spouses what challenges they are facing whenever she visits bases.
"I never make promises, but I always let them know that I am a conduit," she said. "I can come back to headquarters and express their concerns for them. So that's one of the main reasons why I go out."
Over the past 3˝ years, Roy has visited bases both overseas and in the U.S., including Air National Guard sites. During that time, spouses have raised concerns with her about access to child care and other issues.
"Spousal employment used to be a big one that was raised; however, since the first lady [Michelle Obama] and Dr. [Jill] Biden started this Joining Forces campaign, they've really, really come online to help our military spouses."
Roy met her husband in the 10th grade, and they were married shortly afterward. While she supported his Air Force career, it wasn't until she took a job with the Air Force as a Defense Department civilian that she understood what her husband's commitment to the Air Force meant.
"I advocate that our spouses receive the mission brief because I feel like it is so important to understand why you are there and what you are supporting," she said in an interview with Air Force Times.
When she talks to Air Force spouses, she urges them to be involved with improving the lives of airmen and families.
"I always leave them with the Helen Keller quote, which is: ‘I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something, and I won't refuse to do the something I can do.'" she said. "While we can't go out and change the world, we can make changes in the lives of those in our purview, in our area of responsibility. One act of kindness goes a long way."
No one puts more time and energy into caring for Air Force families than Roy, said Betty Welsh, wife of Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh.
"She is incredibly informed, enthusiastic and very energetic, and her positive attitude toward everything makes her a joy to be around and work with," Betty Welsh said in an interview.
"Paula is a hugger, and I laughed when we were on a base visit at one point in time: Paula was going down the line hugging the airmen and saying ‘thank you' to them, and Gen. Welsh scooted to the end of the line to get a hug," she said.
Another very noticeable thing about Roy is her laugh, Welsh said.
"If you've heard her, you know that her laughter is contagious, and I want to record it before she leaves so that when I want to hear it, I have something to listen to," she said.
"She's worked hard on many issues to make sure that our airmen and their families and spouses are well taken care of," Welsh said. "She's an amazing team player, and she's supported her husband, Jim, in all that he has done as chief master sergeant of the Air Force, accompanying him on base visits, championing many programs that support the military and their families, and meeting with spouses and just being an excellent role model."
Since her husband became the Air Force's senior enlisted leader in June 2009, Roy has advocated for the Key Spouse program, in which each unit commander designates a spouse as the liaison between families and senior leadership.
"A lot of times when there's issues going on in the unit, especially with the junior folks, they don't feel as free to go to their senior leadership to say, ‘Hey, we've got this issue going on,'" Paula Roy said.
Key Spouses are vital in letting military families know what resources are available to them, which remains a major challenge even in the age of Facebook and instant communication, she said.
The Airman and Family Readiness Center offers programs for new parents and airmen who need help writing their résumé or making financial plans, Roy said. Chaplains are also available to help spouses with day-to-day issues.
But airmen don't always tell their spouses everything they need to know about what the Air Force has to offer them, she said.
"We can't rely on our blue-suiters to get the information home," Roy said. "It's sad sometimes that we cannot get the information to them, and that's why we Key Spouses are critical to this mission."
However, Roy acknowledged the program has its limitations. "Reality is that if there is [a] lack of senior leadership, the program is not going to be that successful," she said.
Roy has taken the Key Spouse program and run with it, said Suzie Schwartz, wife of former Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz.
"Paula was absolutely a delight from Day 1, and I knew we were going to hit it off and have great energy," Schwartz said.
Another of Roy's accomplishments was establishing a course for spouses of newly selected command master chiefs, Schwartz said. Roy would serve as their mentor by offering them insights and alerting them to tools they could use.
In essence, Roy let the spouses know that they matter, Schwartz said. The course has been so successful that the Air Force has made a point of saving it despite ongoing budget cuts.
Over the past few years, Roy has expanded the role of the chief master sergeant of the Air Force's wife by going out of her way to encourage other command chief spouses to take an active role in helping Air Force families.
"She was really trying to be that role model," Schwartz said.
Roy sends them quarterly packets filled with information, such as newsletters, Schwartz said. She also spends hours before meetings preparing "happys," which are packets of potpourri, glitter and other niceties. For her last meeting with command chief spouses, Roy went with a Florida theme and gave the attendees packages filled with citrus-scented candles and citrus candies.
"I couldn't have asked for a more wonderful person to share our time together as we led the Air Force," Schwartz said.
Roy explained that she made building relationships with the command chief spouses at the major and combatant commands her first priority after her husband became chief master sergeant of the Air Force.
"I felt that they were the conduit to reaching down into their [major commands], through their NAFs [numbered air forces], down to the wings, and that's where we could get the communication flowing," she said.
One spouse she has worked with is Athena Cody, whose husband, Chief Master Sergeant James Cody, has been selected to replace James Roy in February. Athena Cody is a retired chief master sergeant.
"She has totally been a team player," Paula Roy said. "I am ecstatic with their selection and I cannot wait — because she is a retired chief — she has a whole different perspective, and I think our airmen and their families are going to benefit greatly from their leadership."
"It has been an honor and a privilege to serve, and I would advise her to cherish each moment of this experience," Roy said. "It's very humbling."