Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force’s 20th Chief of Staff, retired June 24, leaving a service dramatically changed since he took office in 2012, yet still in war and in transition. “Our Air Force is always focused on moving forward,” Welsh said at his retirement ceremony, held in a hangar at JB Andrews, Md., though his last official day on Active Duty is July 1. “We’re always headed to a greater place. … It has been the honor of my life to represent you.” Welsh’s four years at the helm of the Air Force included a revitalization of the service’s nuclear forces, a new air war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and a complete overhaul of the service’s electronic warfare; cyber; and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance communities in a time of tight budgets, and with a Congress that was at times combative. “Under General Welsh’s leadership, [airmen] have innovated, they’ve adapted, they’ve built up on the best traditions and core values of our Air Force,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said at the ceremony. Welsh, a career fighter pilot, was flanked by two aircraft he once piloted—an F-16 and an A-10. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Welsh has led “tirelessly and effortlessly.” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford presented Welsh with the Defense Distinguished Service Award during the ceremony. Welsh now moves on to be the dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.