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Air Force bids farewell to Welsh

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Stealing a moment of silence, looking into the eyes of his wife, he takes a deep breath and prepares for what’s to come.

Standing tall and proud, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III walks into a hangar in front of hundreds of onlookers, all there to bid him farewell.

After 40 years of service, Welsh retired from the Air Force during a ceremony June 24 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

Welsh’s journey began at the age of 23 when he graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy, donning his father’s second lieutenant bars.
He became a pilot, accumulating more than 3,300 flight hours in the F-16 Fighting Falcon, A-10 Thunderbolt II, T-37 Tweet and TG-7A motorized glider, and leaves behind a legacy of pride.

“As Mark and Betty depart for their next adventure in life, the good news is they’re leaving behind a fantastic legacy, a legacy which is the core values of the Air Force themselves --integrity, service before self and excellence in all that they have done over the course of four decades,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said of the general and his wife.

“And the best thing any Airman can ever really hope for is to find the right wingman in service to America,” she continued. “And I have to say, I certainly found such a wingman in the fantastic partnership of Mark and Betty Welsh.”

Through his service, Welsh inspired service members across all branches of the armed forces, even capturing the attention of his youngest son and influencing his decision to join the Marine Corps.

In a sea of Air Force blue, the olive green Marine Corps uniform of 1st Lt. Matthew Welsh stood out as the young officer took the stage to retire his father.

“Dad’s an extremely nice, personable man,” Matthew said. “When people meet him they are taken aback and wonder, ‘Is dad really that nice?’ The answer is, ‘Yes!’ But make no mistake about it, underneath all that is a barrel-chested, red-blooded, God-fearing American that’s been swinging the war hammer for the last 40 years for this country.”

Matthew said his father taught him everything he needed to know about being a man and a leader.

“Leaders stand in the pocket and they take the hits, regardless of what is fair and what’s not,” he said. “They take the insults and the direction from wherever it comes … and they do what is right by the team, by the men and women. Leaders carry the respect of their organization and protect it at all costs.”

Matthew gave a unique perspective on the wealth of experience his parents accumulated throughout their years of service.

“What people don’t realize is that mom and dad are richer than most,” Matthew said. “This is a unique profession where value and success are not determined by fame or political gain -- their currency is one of a different kind … earned through the blood of their brothers and sisters, forged through the sweat and tears of combat, compounded by the daily actions and subsequent pride developed through the men and women of our armed services, and solidified by the deep respect they have earned through their brothers- and sisters-in-arms and their own family.”

With an A-10 and F-16 anchored in each corner, and the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard in formation under an oversized American flag draped from the ceiling, Welsh addressed the crowd as if he knew every single person in the room.

“As American Airmen we serve in the greatest Air Force in history and we serve in the mightiest joint force anyone has ever seen and we serve the greatest nation and the greatest citizens on earth,” Welsh said. “What a privilege it has been to stand beside you, thanks for allowing me to do so.

“To the Airmen of the Air Force, thank you for making me proud each and every day to stand beside you and thanks for keeping me humble enough to try and be worthy of your trust,” he continued. “You are magnificent, no one has committed more to the fight over the past 25 years, no one is more critical to warfighting success and no one is prouder to serve than an American Airman. It has been the honor of my life to represent you. Thank you for who you are. I’ll miss you.”

Reflecting on his career, one thing stayed constant through all the moves and changes -- the support of his family, and most importantly, his wife.

“I have had an embarrassingly wonderful and blessed life,” Welsh said. “I grew up in the greatest family ever, I had the best mom any child has ever had, a father who is still the greatest role model I have ever met and who I know is very proud as he looks down on us today. I had the best brother and sisters on earth and better friends than I deserved. Then I met Betty, and my world was complete. She is everything, she is the story of my life and I can’t wait to write the next chapter.”

As a drum beats loudly, signaling the start of one final march, flights of Airmen pass by, culminating the ceremony. Welsh then takes the hand of his beloved and leaves the hangar arm-in-arm to start off on their next adventure.