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WA ANG’s top officer lives lessons learned

Gen. Gent Welsh, Commander, WA ANG, listens to a Guardsman activated to assist law enforcement agencies for protest and unrest assistance in Seattle in June 2020. Photo credit: MSgt. John Hughel, WA ANG Public Affairs

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Brig. Gen. Gent Welsh, Commander, Washington Air National Guard (WA ANG), is most proud of the six years he spent as an enlisted airman.

"I started with nothing, and I've gone from Airman Basic to now the General Officer ranks," he began, "and my foundation was laid down as an enlisted airman on active duty."

"The most influential people in my military life have always been NCOs and SNCOs who saw something in me worth investing their time."

Born in California, Welsh grew up in Vale, Oregon, a rural area where the cattle outnumber the people by more than 50 to 1.

As a young man, he liked shooting, fishing, camping and motorcycle riding. While in high school, he ran track and cross-country, played basketball, and even played varsity football his senior year just to try something different.

Welsh also thought about joining the military, and he vacillated between wanting to be a Marine aircrewman or a Navy nuclear power technician.

"I settled on the Air force out of legacy," Welsh continued.

That legacy is based on his grandfather's service during World War II in China where he had been an Army Air Force B-25 pilot.

Welsh enlisted in 1988 and trained to serve as a security technician. While stationed at Royal Air Force (RAF) Lakenheath, Welsh met and learned important life-long lessons from now retired CMSgt Terry Reynolds.

"He was the first NCO that took me under his wing and saw something in me. Many of the ways I approach issues and problems now are because of the example he set for me early on in my military career," Welsh explained. 

During Welsh's last active-duty assignment at Fairchild Air Force Base, WA, he decided to go to college and joined the Washington Air National Guard.

"Outside of my wife, it is the best decision I have made," he noted.

In 1991 he enrolled at Eastern Washington University, and in 1992 he joined the Washington Air National Guard. In the early 1990s, the Air National Guard granted four-year degree waivers to those enlisted members who were close to graduating and wanted to earn a commission. 

"I was a couple of quarters away from graduating, so finishing up after Officer Training School was simple."

In 1994 Welsh was commissioned a second lieutenant, and in 1995 he received his bachelor's degree in English.

As an undergraduate, he had considered majoring in Political Science because he thought he might go to law school. 

"My wife, however, recommended I major in English; her logic was that lawyers write a lot, and I needed some help in that area," he added.

"Taking those English courses forced me to learn to write better, critically analyze issues, and communicate effectively - all skills that I have come to rely on pretty much every day since then."

Those skills have served Welsh admirably during his nearly 34 years in uniform. 

"I would characterize my service as really a life-long calling; I do this because I truly enjoy doing what I do," he said.

"There's no more important task than keeping this country a democracy and preserving our ideals. We don't always get things right, and we always have to strive to be better, but this country - and our people - are well worth the effort."

To expand on these ideals, Welsh invites current active-duty soldiers and airmen to consider the possibility of serving in the Guard.

"The Guard is like anything else in life ... it will be whatever you want to make of it. There's absolutely no way I would have believed ‘future me' telling ‘me in 1992' that this is where I'd end up with this thing called the Guard."

But in saying this, Welsh echoes the lessons he learned as an airman.

"To this day, I attempt to analyze every one of my decisions through the eyes of ‘Airman Welsh' over three decades ago."

"I've been told to ‘never forget where you came from' from those same NCOs.

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