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Airman plans to follow passion after Air Force career

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Master Sgt. Paul Mackey, 21st Force Support Squadron career assistance advisor, displays items he designed and created in his spare time. He has primarily focused on leatherwork and knife making. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Master Sgt. Paul Mackey, 21st Force Support Squadron career assistance advisor, displays items he designed and created in his spare time. He has primarily focused on leatherwork and knife making. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Growing up at his grandparent's home in Columbia, South Carolina Master Sgt. Paul Mackey, 21st Force Support Squadron career assistance advisor, figured he would head into the Army after high school. He was part of the Junior ROTC and he planned on attending Georgia Military College. Going into the Army was a common career choice for many of his classmates.

But an Army ROTC camp instructor suggested he look at the Air Force. Not long after that, Mackey decided he would rather enlist in the Air Force than become an officer in the Army.

"(The Army) just didn't seem like a good fit," he said. He graduated from high school in June 1994 and was in the Air Force by August. "The Air Force was my first job."

Mackey will retire from his first job of 20-plus years April 1.

Recruiters tried to steer him into Explosive Ordnance Disposal, but he decided to take the open enlistment route. That landed him in an ordnance and ammunition assignment where he would stay for the next eight years.

During his second year, Mackey heard about the retraining program. He wanted to get into a different type of job so he submitted a package for retraining, and would continue to do so for the next eight years.

"I think I did it wrong enough times that they recognized my name and threw me a bone," Mackey said.

Mackey ended up retraining in the intelligence field. Having essentially built bombs for eight years the new career exposed Mackey to things he'd not experienced before.

"It was very eye opening," he said. "I got to see a whole different facet of the Air Force that I had never seen before."

He began to get involved in various things through volunteering, including professional development courses and mentoring in the non-commissioned officer's professional enhancement course. That is when the person who, at the time, filled Mackey's current position said he was leaving the job prompting him to put in for the position. Following what he called a series of miracles Mackey was hired for the position in 2013.

"It was just a paradigm shift, a wider view of the Air Force," he said. "The thing we all have in common is that we are all Airmen."

Mackey also found a wider view when it came to creative outlets.

"I'm a dabbler. I like to try my hand at different things. It's the butterfly syndrome. I flit from thing to thing," he said

And those things are many: Apothecary, jewelry making, armor and chainmail, sword fighting, model making, painting, drawing, and pottery are only some of the things Mackey found himself interested in doing. But it always comes back to leathercraft and knife making.

"My wife's happier with this because there is a little income," he said.

Mackey came across many of his hobbies through a group called the Society for Creative Anachronism when he was overseas. The group is a historical education and re-enactment organization. He became interested in history at a young age through a teacher who took an interactive approach, dressing in historically accurate costumes while he taught. The teacher even brought a cannon along to class.

"I thought, hey, I can do this stuff for real," said Mackey.

Medieval fighting in the SCA got him interested in creating his own armor, which he did through trial and error. Mackey began making a chainmail coif during his lunch hour while stationed in Guam.

Most of the armor he made was crafted from leather to suit his persona of a 14th century Highlander, tying together his ancestry with living history. When he needed a helmet made of plate armor, he didn't create it himself, but he located historical imagery and designed the pattern for the armorer who did.

His leatherwork, which has become a small business for Mackey, branched off his knife making. He made a small knife, then a sheath for it, which launched him in to other leather projects.

"It wasn't good (work)," Mackey said, "But others liked them, so they asked me to make them knives."

From knives and sheathes he went to custom belts, journal covers and cell phone cases. The more people see his work, the more people request he make things for them, and Mackey said he is quite pleased about it.

"I am hoping to do more after retirement," he said. "Over time, people find out I do these things and ask if I do them for gifts."

To date, Mackey created more than 50 knife projects. Each one, he said, is better than the last and he is a stickler on improving each time.

"I am happy with the latest one, until I do another," Mackey said.

In his post-Air Force career Mackey would like to incorporate another of his hobbies - bushcraft - into his work life. He is thinking the National Park Service or Fish and Wildlife Service could suit him well.

"Post-retirement, I essentially want to go outside and play and get paid for it," he said.
During his time as a career assistance advisor for Team Pete, Mackey has shared a particular philosophy with people he counsels and first time airmen alike. It is found in a quote from Mark Twain: Find a job you enjoy doing and you will never work a day in your life.

"I ask people 'what are you passionate about?'" Mackey said. "Part of my job here is to help people find that passion."

It would seem he is taking his own advice as he moves onward to what will become his second job.

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