Enlisted corps bestows highest honor upon Welsh

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MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. — Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III was inducted into the Air Force Order of the Sword during a ceremony April 22 in Montgomery, Alabama.

An ancient tradition adopted by the Air Force in 1967, the Order of the Sword is the highest level of honor and tribute the enlisted corps can give its leaders. The sword symbolizes honor, truth, justice and power, and the induction distinguishes a leader among leaders.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody presented the sword to Welsh. He explained that the Order of the Sword is for those leaders who have made significant contributions to the enlisted corps.

“Tonight, the entire Air Force is honoring you, all of the enlisted Airmen that you have helped,” Cody said. “They are all thinking of you and saying, ‘What a great leader.’ And I can say that you have redefined what it means to be a good leader among leaders and what it means to know an Airman.”

Before the ceremony, a junior-enlisted Airman had an encounter with Welsh that exemplified the reason why the general was being honored.

While standing and waiting for Welsh’s arrival, Airman Andrew Dang, a 42nd Contracting Squadron contracting specialist, admitted to the surrounding chief master sergeants that he wanted to shake Welsh’s hand. The chiefs thought this was a great idea, so when Welsh walked by, they nudged Dang toward him. The Airman quickly shook his hand but was shocked when Welsh invited him to walk into the venue with him.

“It was such a privilege, because of all the people in the room, he chose me, an Airman to walk with him,” Dang said. “I was awestricken, it was amazing. I am truly thankful.”

Welsh has gained the reputation of reaching out and connecting with Airmen wherever he goes, and the Order of the Sword ceremony was no different. Before presenting Welsh with the sword, Cody commended the general for his concern and care for Airmen.

“This is a significant way to honor you and there is no better example of a leader who should have it, but it almost pales in comparison to what you have given us as an Air Force,” he said.

In his remarks, Welsh shared a story from his career that shaped his opinion of the Air Force’s enlisted corps.

While deployed during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Welsh said he had lost a pilot from his squadron. In his grief, he went to the chaplain’s tent, where he sat alone until an Airman came in and put his arm around him and just sat with him.

“He didn’t have to check on me to see if I was OK,” Welsh said. “He certainly didn’t have to sit there and grieve with me, and he somehow had the brilliance to not say anything or to interject his feelings about how bad he felt; he just felt it with me. I’ll never forget him, but that’s what the enlisted corps does. They do what’s necessary, and they do it when it’s necessary and they do it until it’s time to move on to the next task. They always take care of their own.”

Welsh concluded his comments with a charge and a debt of gratitude to all Airmen.

“I do love you. Take care of each other. Lead our Airmen. Keep standing for what you stand for, and if any of you ever need help, find me. I’d be honored if you called,” he said.