Paul Daigle, the CEO of multi-service aviation company AAL USA Inc. based in Huntsville, Alabama, has been breezing through this profile interview for almost an hour. His answers and observations have been delivered with insight, confidence, humor, and without hesitation. He’s offered a plethora of quotes and the end of the conversation is now near. Only a softball question remains—lobbed slow and high. It should be right in his wheelhouse:

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Daigle stops talking. A long pause follows. The silence continues. Apparently the softball was a knuckleball. Finally, he hesitantly attempts an answer: “I don’t know; that’s a hard one. I can talk about almost anything else, but I really don’t like talking about things that I’ve done well.”

What? Every facet of the interview so far has touched on things Daigle’s done well. It’s been one freakin’ success after another. However, the victories discussed have been ones that mostly involved teamwork. This last question had the word “you” in it, and perhaps that has thrown Daigle into focusing on himself in a prideful way. He doesn’t like to do that. Such introspection means he may see the shadow of inner demons he’s fought to conquer.

He eventually answers in depth with an honesty that is simultaneously humble and bold. But to gain proper perspective, we first go back in time….

PAUL JOSEPH DAIGLE was born in South Carolina and grew up in Florida, the oldest of seven siblings in a large Catholic family of Celtic heritage. The family’s neighbor was a Delta Airlines pilot and a mentor to Paul’s younger brother, who became a Delta Airlines pilot himself. The neighbor regaled the boys with stories from “back in the airline glory days,” says Daigle, “so I was aware of aviation growing up.” Still, in the late 1990s Daigle joined the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) in high school with the goal of eventually becoming an infantry officer. “I wanted to kill bad guys and blow up their

s--t. I thought that was like the American dream,” he says.

After high school, Daigle next attended Clemson University on an ROTC scholarship. It was during his junior year that an Army captain convinced the student that he could inflict even more damage from the air, so he pursued a new goal and was eventually selected for training as an aviation branch officer. The 9/11 terrorist attacks happened while Daigle was still on campus. “I knew what I was going to be doing with my life,” he says.

Army Times

Two days after graduating in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Daigle showed up for flight school, and next went from there to Fort Hood, Texas. “It was 2004 and my first wife had just found out that she was pregnant,” says Daigle. “I was only at Fort Hood long enough to get her a house, and then I was off to Taji, Iraq, with my unit.”

Now a platoon leader and air mission commander, his first combat tour was eight months. “Combat is 90 percent boring, just flying in circles—and 10 percent of the worst that could ever happen—but I had the opportunity to fight in some cool places (including the Battle of Fallujah). Being an air mission commander of a team of Apaches is probably the coolest thing

that anyone could ever do.” He also gained knowledge that would later serve him well in his future civilian career.

“I was very tied into aircraft maintenance. I’d go fly with my warrant officers for up to eight hours, and then I’d go spend the rest of the day on the flightline. I valued my maintenance guys and I developed a very sound understanding of maintenance operations.”

He returned back to the States just in time to see his first son born. “Two weeks after his birth, we started training again,” he says. “We were back home for 18 months, but I think I was actually at home with my family for four of them.” In 2006 he deployed back to Iraq a few months prior to the surge. He didn’t return until early 2008. “I got divorced during that one,” he observes. “It happened to a bunch of us.” He then bounced around bases in Texas, North Carolina, and Alabama, before being deploying to Afghanistan in 2009 with the 82nd Airborne Division. After being there four months, he was sent home on emergency leave and medically discharged a year later.

Daigle tallied up about 1,500 combat hours during his tours, but logged almost 22,000 hours in a battle captain chair. He insists, “I was definitely better at that than I was at actually flying.” The combat veteran earned multiple valorous awards during his time in service, including an Air Medal and an Army Commendation Medal, each with “V” device, as a result of his heroism on the battlefield.

Home in Huntsville

Return to civilian life began for Daigle with a job at an Army program office in the “Rocket City” of Huntsville, Alabama. Before long he was program integrator for all non-standard rotary-wing aircraft programs supporting the Afghan Air Force and their U.S. Air Force mentors. “I walked in there with zero contracting background and zero understanding of the specific aircraft, but I had an understanding of how to work with people—basic human being stuff. Surprisingly, that can make you very successful at your job.” He demurs when asked if his international experience in the military and multilingual skills helped him succeed in Uncle Sam’s program office. “You basically have to know how to get along with others. If you learned how to read at an eighth-grade level (the level for military manuals), you can do strikingly well as a government employee or contractor,” he says with good humor.


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