Answering the Call of Duty

Col. Joseph Schwarz, Air Force Space Command Directorate of Logistics, Installations and Mission Support deputy director, pins the Bronze Star Medal onto Maj. Doug Welter, AFSPC Directorate of Logistics, Installations and Mission Support, during the BSM presentation ceremony Dec. 29, 2010, at AFSPC headquarters. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Daylena Gonzalez)

A typical Monday morning for most people usually involves some pretty standard events: coffee, catching up on e-mails, talking with coworkers about your weekend and generally trying to get back into the workplace mindset. Doug Welter’s recent Monday mornings likely would have included taking mortar and rocket fire and being responsible for protecting the personnel in an entire military base in the midst of a war zone.

Welter is a major in the United States Air Force, and because of his service and bravery during a six-month deployment in Iraq, he recently earned a Bronze Star medal.

As part of the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) Directorate of Logistics, Installations and Mission Support, Major Welter was deployed to Joint Base Balad in Iraq as operations officer for the 532nd Expeditionary Security Forces from Aug. 27, 2009, to Feb. 19, 2010. His squadron’s primary task was providing security patrols outside the perimeter of the base to defeat the biggest threat to the base: mortar and other indirect fire attacks. Major Welter was responsible for the planning and coordination involved in protecting the base.

His medal citation, which was awarded Dec. 29, 2010, states, “While exposed to enemy rockets, mortar and ground attacks, Major Welter led over 700 Airmen and contract security forces in daily combat operations as part of the largest security forces group deployed to defend an air base since the Vietnam conflict.”

In other words, while on those Monday mornings when many of us were in our offices sipping coffee and already thinking about the next weekend, Major Welter was planning and leading daily security patrols amid regular fire from enemy insurgents with thoughts only of completing his mission and getting through that day, putting the phrase “rough Monday morning” in perspective.

During his six-month deployment, Major Welter led more than 30, and operationally planned more than 950, combat patrols “to counter indirect fire attacks and to prevent the emplacement of improvised explosive devices throughout the security zone,” according to his medal citation.

Earning the Bronze Star is certainly prestigious, especially for an AFSPC Airman.

AFSPC Directorate of Logistics, Installations and Mission Support Deputy Director Col. Joseph Schwarz presented the award to Major Welter, the first time he has been able to have that honor.

Major Welter (second from right) at a militia checkpoint during a security patrol.

“It’s a big thing; the Bronze Star is given out for meritorious service against an armed enemy,” says Colonel Schwarz, who added “a lot of folks owe their security and their safety to that man [Major Welter]. He did a great job. He had a lot of people working for him, and he made sure everything went well and he did not lose a single security forces [member] during the time he was there.”

“When I first heard they approved this decoration, the first thing that came to my mind, and has been on my mind ever since, was the fact that I have a lot of friends who have earned the Bronze Star in a lot harder ways than I have earned mine,” says Major Welter.

“I am talking about men who fought in Normandy, who crossed the Waal River under fire to take a bridge at Nijmegen, who held the line at Bastogne, who fought through Viet Cong ambushes that took out half of their platoon; and I think I will always wonder how I could measure up to what they did.”

Major Welter says he had a little help from his friends and fellow soldiers in Iraq, and he even credits growing up in Southeast Missouri as an asset in his role.

“My success has always come from the people I’ve served with. I’ve been blessed to have had the opportunity to work and fight alongside some of the best people in this country. Circumstances may have made me their leader, but I still learned a lot from them.”

Major Welter admits there were some trying times and “unique challenges” involved with defending an entire air base. However, he says much of what he learned growing up in Southeast Missouri helped him relate to the local people.

“Iraq is a huge agricultural area where large families are common, so coming from where I do helped me relate to them very well. When working with foreign nationals you look for common grounds to establish a rapport. Some of my best successes came from working with local leaders to help secure the area and decrease the amount of violence,” he says.

Major Welter during a patrol along the Tigris River.

“One night we were patrolling in a sector where they shot mortars and rockets at the base on a daily basis. We stopped at a checkpoint to talk to the local militia. As it turned out, the man in charge of the checkpoint was the son of the sheik from that area. He called his father, who arrived shortly. At that time, I was sporting a healthy mustache, and I could exchange some pleasantries and small talk in Arabic, so I managed to make a good impression. With a little knowledge of the culture and a good deal of help from my interpreter, we spent the next three hours just talking about family, joking and drinking tea. By the time we left, I had politely declined the offer of a house and a couple wives but had to promise to return for another visit. For the remainder of my tour of duty, we never took any more rockets or mortars from that sector. That may just be a coincidence, but I’d like to think how we handled that chance encounter might have had something to do with it.”

There is one thing Major Welter is certain of regarding his service in Iraq: he certainly understands the gravity of the decisions he made daily.

“The most frightening thing about being a leader is your people are looking to you for direction. The choices you make could determine whether they live or die. So you pray for the wisdom to make the right choices and the strength to deal with the results of the choices you’ve made. The reward comes from seeing the faith in the eyes of your people; seeing that they believe in you even when you might doubt yourself. It’s a very powerful but extremely humbling feeling.”

Major Welter monitors two participants beginning the Guardian Challenge Assault Course at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

His last tour wasn’t Major Welter’s first stint in Iraq. He spent a year from July 2007-2008 as a security forces advisor at Camp Victory, working with Iraqi army patrols and bringing them into the process of securing the base.

Now that he is stateside, Major Welter is stationed at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. As a security forces staff officer, he is in charge of coordinating deployments, equipment and training for approximately 4,000 Space Command forces.

A 1993 graduate of Southeast, Major Welter was commissioned through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Program.

“At one point, I wanted to fly, so the Air Force seemed like the best way to go,” he says. “When I came through in ‘93, the military was going through cutbacks and I didn’t have the opportunities to fly. My first several assignments were in public affairs, which gave me new opportunities. But I always wanted to do something more traditional in the military, like leading people. Security Forces was a good fit: they needed officers and were able to make it work out.”

After a world of learning, Major Welter remembers where his career as a leader and military man began.

“My parents placed a high value on self-reliance and, as a result, I unwittingly learned skills while growing up on the farm that I never imagined I would use years later on the other side of the world. In addition, my liberal arts education at Southeast taught me there are usually several different ways to approach any task or problem and not to just default to the textbook answer.”

Originally from Chaffee, Mo., Major Welter will be returning to Missouri in June to serve as an ROTC instructor at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. After that, he looks forward to retiring in the Cape Girardeau area, a pleasant departure from the violence and chaos he has handled so well in the line of duty.

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