Gen Welsh’s Love For Airmen Will Be His Lasting Legacy

Then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III congratulates Cadet 1st Class Amy Silverbush at the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Class of 2016 graduation ceremony at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 2, 2016.
U.S. Air Force photo by Mike Kaplan

August 2012, The Pentagon. I had just reported for duty on what would become my last assignment in uniform. Gen. Mark Welsh had just taken over as Air Force chief of staff. Having recently served in Germany, I was very familiar with him; he was the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe for part of my tour there, and I’d heard him speak on numerous occasions.

On this day, I was showing my kids around the building — they were excited to see what the legendary Pentagon looked like inside. Walking them down the Air Force command section, Welsh’s executive officer was conversing in the doorway of the command suite. When he saw my kids, he asked if they wanted to come in and “see the chief’s office.” Their eyes got wide as we walked into the suite and were loaded up with all kinds of Air Force swag to take home.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III hosts Maj. Jack Nelson and his family prior to Nelson receiving the 2015 Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., May 25, 2016.U.S. Air Force photo by Andy Morataya

The biggest thrill came when Welsh emerged from his office. My kids knew who he was and that he’d just taken over. He extended his hand to both and said, “Hi, I’m Mark.” He asked them about school, and what their favorite airplanes were. Then Welsh noticed my daughter’s new Air Force lanyard, and said, “Wow, I work here and even I don’t have one of those!” My daughter’s response? “Well, you can have mine if you want.”

Welsh served as chief of staff in arguably the most difficult and stressful budget environment in Air Force history, but one thing he always placed above all else was his love and respect for his airmen and their families. Many in similar leadership positions would have walked right past a couple kids and their dad to address bigger and more important things. Not Welsh. He truly loved his troops and their families, and would espouse it often and passionately when he spoke, evoking images of his own father who served before he did. His sentiment was palpable and real, and it’s a side that we frequently saw as airmen, but few outside the service really understood or appreciated if they ever noticed it at all.

Welsh had his share of headaches during his tenure. The insanity of a debilitating sequestration effort unfolded under his command, which devastated flying hour programs and weapons systems across the service. Welsh frequently testified on Capitol Hill how negatively the effort would impact the force — not just combat capability, but also people.

Never willing to compromise either, one of Welsh’s biggest gambles was advocating for the retirement of the fabled A-10 in favor of the F-35 joint strike fighter. This was significant, because the bristling Warthog weapons system was one of the first aircraft on which he trained and flew. Without a serious replacement aircraft to provide close air support, Welsh received vitriolic venom from many elected officials for the recommendation, not the least of whom was Sen. John McCain. But what might have looked like an ill-informed effort on the part of Welsh proved in reality to be a very effective play to keep the A-10 flying, especially in its successful combat against ISIS. He laid out options to Congress to reduce spending, and all were operationally debilitating. Retiring the fighter, in Welsh’s opinion, was the least painful of them. But many inside the Pentagon, confident Congress would probably never go for its retirement, saw it all as a play to keep the A-10 operational. Welsh’s effort to mothball it ultimately saved the legendary Warthog from extinction, and many believed it was an effective “deception” that worked. Congress directed the Air Force not to retire it, and the A-10 remains airborne today as a result of Welsh’s work.

Also under Welsh’s tenure, the F-35 Lightning II, the most expensive military weapons program in history, suffered delay after delay, and budget overruns that cost taxpayers millions. Granted the F-35 was bigger than the Air Force, with versions being acquired for the Navy and Marine Corps as well as foreign allies, Welsh still took heat over his staunch support of its further development. In 2012, the Government Accountability Office found that the F-35’s unit cost had nearly doubled, and the following year, C-Span reported a total program cost of $400 billion, twice the initial estimate. The cost of the F-35 helmet alone was a whopping $400,000 a copy.

In addition to cost issues, safety and functionality have also been highlighted as major program issues, some which seemed like no-brainers that should have been addressed in the design phase, such as the fuel system’s vulnerability to lightning strikes, which a paltry fire suppression system did little to address. Test pilots also reported the cockpit design was so poor that visibility to the rear suffered, and the result could be pilots “gunned [down] every time.” In 2015, it was revealed that the F-35 was less maneuverable than 40-year-old F-16s with wing mounted tanks.

More than 1,000 Guard and Reserve Airmen had the opportunity to listen to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III speak April 11, 2015, about key issues affecting the Air Force during a visit to Tinker Air Force Base.U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Caleb Wanzer

Despite these facts and many more that continue to plague the F-35 program today, Welsh continued to be a staunch supporter of the aircraft’s acquisition, and even called it the future backbone of the Air Force. Maybe. But with cost, safety, and operational effectiveness in serious question, the entire program remains in real jeopardy, and Welsh’s label of the F-35 as any future combat centerpiece (at least in the near term) is questionable at best.

Gen. Mark Welsh retired on June 24 after 40 years of service to the United States. What’s his legacy? Despite his plugging of the F-35 in the face of glaring problems, Welsh’s biggest legacy remains one of a man who has remained steadfast in his dedication to airmen, which was shown time and again through support and advocacy for them: Whether it was through the backing of personnel programs or maintaining of systems like the A-10 to ensure troops were able to get home safely from war.

Welsh served in incredibly difficult conditions under an administration that has regularly put the military on the back burner.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Vaughan Dill/Released)

The three sailors whose lives were cut short by a gunman at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, on Friday "showed exceptional heroism and bravery in the face of evil," said base commander Navy Capt. Tim Kinsella.

Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters were killed in the shooting, the Navy has announced.

Read More Show Less

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. – Gen. David Berger, the US Marine Corps commandant, suggested the concerns surrounding a service members' use of questionable Chinese-owned apps like TikTok should be directed against the military's leadership, rather than the individual troops.

Speaking at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, on Saturday morning, Berger said the younger generation of troops had a "clearer view" of the technology "than most people give them credit for."

"That said, I'd give us a 'C-minus' or a 'D' in educating the force on the threat of even technology," Berger said. "Because they view it as two pieces of gear, 'I don't see what the big deal is.'"

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un risks losing "everything" if he resumes hostility and his country must denuclearize, after the North said it had carried out a "successful test of great significance."

"Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way. He signed a strong Denuclearization Agreement with me in Singapore," Trump said on Twitter, referring to his first summit with Kim in Singapore in 2018.

"He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere with the U.S. Presidential Election in November," he said.

Read More Show Less

The Pentagon has a credibility problem that is the result of the White House's scorched earth policy against any criticism. As a result, all statements from senior leaders are suspect.

We're beyond the point of defense officials being unable to say for certain whether a dog is a good boy or girl. Now we're at the point where the Pentagon has spent three days trying to knock down a Wall Street Journal story about possible deployments to the Middle East, and they've failed to persuade either the press or Congress.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that the United States was considering deploying up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East to thwart any potential Iranian attacks. The story made clear that President Trump could ultimately decide to send a smaller number of service members, but defense officials have become fixated on the number 14,000 as if it were the only option on the table.

Read More Show Less
Pearl Harbor survivor Lauren Bruner attends the dual interment of fellow USS Arizona survivors John D. Anderson, boatswain's mate 2nd class, and Clarendon R. Hetrick, seaman 1st class, at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as part of the 75th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Navy/Petty Officer 2nd Class Somers Steelman)

Just before 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning 78 years ago, Lauren Bruner was preparing for church services and a date that would follow with a girl he'd met outside his Navy base.

The 21-year-old sailor was stationed as a fire controlman aboard the U.S. battleship USS Arizona, overseeing the vessel's .50-caliber guns.

Then alarms rang out. A Japanese plane had bombed the ship in a surprise attack.

It took only nine minutes for the Arizona to sink after the first bomb hit. Bruner was struck by gunfire while trying to flee the inferno that consumed the ship, the second-to-last man to escape the explosion that killed 1,177, including his best friend; 335 survived.

More than 70% of Bruner's body was burned. He was hospitalized for weeks.

Now, nearly eight decades after that fateful day, Bruner's ashes will be delivered to the sea that cradled his fallen comrades, stored in an urn inside the battleship's wreckage.

Read More Show Less