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Carter Says Welsh Will Be Remembered for Dedication to Airmen

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2016 — Retiring Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III always remembered that people are what make the U.S. Air Force the best in the world, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said today.

Welsh ended more than 40 years of Air Force service during a ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, where he handed over command of the service to Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein.

Carter used the Air Force Memorial as a touchstone to explain what people need to know about Welsh. The monument overlooks the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery.

“It’s natural for us to focus on its three spires and the separate paths they take to the sky; the artist’s rendition of the Thunderbirds’ ‘high bomb burst’ maneuver is what first strikes the eye,” the secretary said. “But, as General Welsh explains, you have to see the memorial from its foundation to appreciate its full meaning -- because supporting the three rising spires is a solid granite base. And inscribed into the memorial’s foundation are the words that comprise the Air Force’s foundation: … ‘Integrity first; service before self; excellence in all we do.’”

Personal Mantra

Welsh made those words his personal mantra, Carter said. “He’s stressed that only when airmen of every rank and occupational specialty come together around these values, can the Air Force deliver the global vigilance, global reach and global power that our nation requires,” the secretary said.

Welsh underscored the importance of people at every base he visited, Carter said. “Mark often calls upon the youngest or most inexperienced among them to come forward,” the secretary said. “‘Which of us is more important to the Air Force: me or you?’ Mark will ask them. It’s a tough question -- and it can take a couple minutes for Mark to get the right response. But he always leads them to the same answer: That each and every airman is as important as any other.”

Welsh has served during a tough time, Carter said, noting the general has dealt with worldwide operations, airmen in contact with the enemy in the Middle East, sequestration, the rise of remotely piloted aircraft, a new warfare domain in cyberspace, the nuclear mission and more.

The secretary praised Welsh’s leadership of the Air Force. “Under General Welsh’s leadership,” he said, “they’ve innovated; they’ve adapted; they’ve built upon the best traditions and core values of our Air Force.”

An Inspiration to Airmen

Welsh’s career “prepared him to inspire airmen to break with traditional approaches and career paths,” Carter said. “He’s flown the F-16 [Fighting Falcon] and the A-10 [Thunderbolt II], among others. He’s held positions of command in Europe and in Asia. He’s spent years as both a fighter pilot and an intelligence officer. And most recently, as chief of staff, General Welsh has enabled our Air Force to thrive over these last four years.”

Under Welsh’s guidance, the Air Force is now more responsive to wartime needs, the defense secretary said. He has ensured the Air Force made smart investments in key modernization efforts, including the B-21 long-range strike bomber, the KC-46 Pegasus refueling tanker and the F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter, Carter said. The secretary called these “game-changing platforms that will allow us to continue our air dominance well into this century.”

Welsh has worked tirelessly to meet current demands, but never lost sight of the needs of the service over the next four years, or the next 40 years, the secretary said.

Bringing Solutions

The general “always brings solutions to the table, that are acceptable, feasible and sustainable,” Carter said. “I’ve seen firsthand how his innovative thinking and leadership has benefited not only our airmen, but also the Marine in Anbar, the soldier in Kunar, and the sailor in the Pacific.”

The secretary added, “And I’ve also benefitted personally, from his most incisive inputs on key initiatives -- from building the Force of the Future that will help defend our nation in generations to come; to building bridges with America’s innovative technology community so our military continues to stay the best; to opening all combat positions to women so that we can take advantage of our country’s entire pool of population for our all-volunteer force.”

Welsh has set the bar very high, the secretary said, but, he added, his successor has what it takes to grab the baton and keep running.

“We know that the values and traditions of excellence and innovation, which have allowed the United States to dominate the first aerospace century, will surely guide the Air Force well into the next,” he said.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)
Distribution channels: Military