By Staff Sgt. J. Aaron Breeden
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — In a crowded hangar on a breezy Colorado afternoon, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III stepped onto a stage fit for the opening scene of “Patton.”
Welsh and his wife, Betty, visited Peterson July 18 as part of a two-day stop in Colorado Springs to thank the men and women of the 21st and 50th space wings for everything they have done and continue to do.
Welsh’s message of caring for Airmen and the importance of communication was ingrained in almost every word he spoke, starting with the story he shared of Staff Sgt. Kway Min, 21st Medical Group public health technician.
Born in the impoverished and violence ridden country of Burma, Min lived with his family until he was chosen through a random lottery to emigrate to the United States. Without his family or understanding of the English language, Min set out to take advantage of the opportunity he had been afforded. He worked for many years holding odd jobs until he joined the Air Force in 2009.
Since enlisting, Min has excelled as a member of the Air Force family having twice earned Airman of the quarter, selected for senior airman below the zone, and selected as Airman of the Year for both the 21st Space Wing and Air Force Space Command, all while working toward a degree in biochemistry.
“If you ask him about his job, what he says is, ‘My job matters so I like to be prepared to do it well.’ This is the face of our Air Force,” said Welsh, pointing to Min. “These are the stories I’m going to tell the world because this is what you all look like to me. Every Airman has a story; this is a remarkable one.”
Welsh then posed a scenario to 2nd Lt. Daniel Johnson, NORAD/Cheyenne Mountain command and control sustainment engineer, in which an ICBM attack was imminent. In that moment, who was more important, Welsh or Johnson, he asked.
“Sir, that would be me,” said Johnson.
“Right answer, Daniel. I don’t want you to ever forget that. Ever,” Welsh replied. “One of the things that you need to understand about our Air Force is that no one is more important to it than you are.”
The chief also spoke about his father, a three-war veteran and best friend, who imparted what he considers one of the greatest life lessons.
“People plus pride equals performance,” Welsh said. “We try hard to train and educate you better than anybody else and we try and make you proud of what you do and who you are and what you represent. If we can keep that pride and keep it combined with your talent and your commitment to this job, we can do anything. And we demonstrate it every day.”
In lieu of the ongoing effects of sequestration and furlough, Welsh opened his remarks with stories of caring and pride because those things are going to ensure we move forward.
“All the stuff we’re facing as far as issues go … we’ll get through them. We’ll get through them because you’ll carry us through them. You’ll figure out the solutions,” Welsh said. “My job is to make sure that you stay with us, that you stay proud, you stay convinced that what you do matters and that you matter to the Air Force. There’re just some things that we’ve got to change.”
Some of that change is a reflected in the more than 11,000 ideas submitted during the recent month-long Every Dollar Counts campaign, an initiative led by Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Larry Spencer. The submissions ranged from redundancies in Air Force processes to checklist items that simply made no sense. But, Welsh had a different outlook following this campaign.
“Why do people feel like they’ve got to send their ideas to a website?” Welsh asked. “Why can’t they walk into your office and tell you they’ve got an idea. And if they do, why don’t you implement it? That’s the Air Force we want to be, everyone’s voice matters, everybody’s opinion counts, and if it makes sense, we implement it.”
With resounding applause, Welsh concluded his talk by saying “thank you” to the Airmen of the 21st one last time, but before packing up for the day, he stopped at a few units to visit some of Peterson’s top Airmen.
One in particular was Airman 1st Class Qadry Jenkins, 21st MDG dental lab apprentice, who toured Welsh around Peterson’s Area Dental Lab.
“I didn’t believe my wingman at first,” Jenkins said after finding out he would be showing Welsh around. Jenkins said initially he was nervous when Welsh stepped through the door, but he quickly calmed down. “Once I heard how calmly he spoke, I knew how personable he was and that I could talk to him like a regular person.”
The tour ended unexpectedly for Jenkins when Welsh pulled a coin from his pocket and presented it to the young Airman, who reciprocated with a coin of his own.
“I wasn’t expecting to get a coin, but I was prepared,” said Jenkins.
Before Welsh departed, he took the phone number of Jenkins’ mother to call her that evening, a promise he fulfilled a few hours later commending Ms. Jenkins on how bright her son’s future is and that she should be proud.
Jenkins said the short time he spent with Welsh proved the sincerity of our top leaders.
“When (Welsh) talked about the importance of family at the all-call and then asked about mine, it proved how he truly cares about me and my family as well,” said Jenkins.