JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. — The Air Force chief of staff flag passed to the service’s 20th chief in a ceremony here Aug. 10.
Gen. Mark Welsh III, a 36-year Airman, stepped into the position, taking over for Gen. Norton Schwartz, who also retired from the Air Force during the ceremony.
“Mark is respected throughout the Air Force for his exceptional leadership and ability to connect with Airmen,” Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley said.
Raised in an Air Force family, Welsh said he found a role model in his father, a decorated combat pilot.
“Today, I think he’d be proud of me,” Welsh said. “And any day a kid can make his dad proud is a great day.”
Welsh emphasized the need for Airmen to understand the importance of the other services in joint operations, but also said Airmen shouldn’t underestimate the combat capabilities of their own service in winning today’s fight.
“No one else can bring what we bring to the fight, and any real warfighter knows that,” he said. “Don’t ever doubt yourself or this service.”
Welsh also addressed his stance on issues affecting the well-being of Airmen.
“When it comes to Airman resiliency, suicide prevention, and sexual assault prevention and response, I believe you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem,” he said. “There is no middle ground.”
Welsh also said the Air Force must shape the future, and that will require innovative thinking and different approaches to problems along with modernization.
Welsh was nominated by the president May 10 and confirmed by the Senate Aug. 2.
In his previous position as the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, he was in charge of Air Force activities in an area of operations covering nearly one-fifth of the globe.
Welsh, a 1976 graduate of the Air Force Academy, has served in numerous operational, command and staff positions, such as commandant of cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy, vice commander of Air Education and Training Command and associate director for military affairs at the Central Intelligence Agency.
“When I became a squadron commander, I felt excited. When I became a wing commander, I felt proud. When I became a major command commander, I felt privileged and a little bit old,” he said. “Today when I was sworn in as chief of staff of the Air Force, I felt humbled to be given the honor of leading its incredible Airmen.”
His experience includes nearly 3,300 flying hours, most of which came in the A-10 Thunderbolt II and F-16 Fighting Falcon.
As the ceremony ushered in a new chapter in Air Force history, it also served as the final chapter for Schwartz’s four years as the service’s senior uniformed leader and his more than 39 years of military service.
Schwartz’s career began in 1973 after graduating from the Air Force Academy. He has logged more than 4,400 flying hours and participated in military operations in Vietnam, Iraq and Cambodia.
“Anyone looking for an example of Air Force core values need look no further than Gen. Norty Schwartz,” Donley said. “Thank you for your lasting contribution to our Air Force and the character and quality of your service.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta presented Schwartz with the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, which is awarded to service members who perform exceptionally meritorious service in a position of great responsibility.
The award citation highlighted his success in restoring excellence in the Air Force nuclear mission, his efforts to partner with joint and coalition teammates in support of operations worldwide, modernizing the Air Force’s air and space inventories, and care for Airmen and families. Schwartz’s wife Suzie was also recognized for her devotion to Airmen and family support programs.
“The Air Force has afforded us an honorable and rewarding journey for the entirety of our adult lives,” Schwartz said.