Welsh, the Air Force's 20th chief of staff, bid his official farewell in a hangar filled with family, colleagues past and present, and two aircraft he had flown during the course of his 40-year career: the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the A-10 Thunderbolt, aka the Warthog.
"To airmen and families everywhere, you are magnificent," he said. "It has been the honor of my life to represent you. This may be the understatement of my life, but I will miss you."
Welsh's nominated successor,Vice Chief of Staff David Goldfein, has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.
Welsh entered the Air Force from the Air Force Academy in 1976, with the Vietnam War over. But beginning in 1990 -- from the Persian Gulf War and its subsequent No-Fly-Zone missions, through the Kosovo War and finally the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions that followed 9/11 -- Welsh has known only an Air Force at war.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said one of Welsh's greatest legacies will be as "an integrator," both within the Air Force and across the joint force, especially in the areas of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Welsh was perfectly suited for that role not only because of his Air Force background, but his work in intelligence, including as an associate director of the CIA.
"Since Mark became chief of staff, the Air Force's ISR, electronic warfare, and cyber components have been completely transformed in how they work together," Carter said. "Look at the Army pods now affixed to the wings of Air Force Reapers, or the Air Force and Navy's partnership on jamming improvised explosive devices. These are just two of the joint-force collaborations he's championed. And for years to come, American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines will be safer because of them."
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James observed that Welsh "leads effortlessly and tirelessly -- and I;m talking about 24/7 -- always, always advocating for the needs of our United States Air Force."
James said Welsh keeps a cutout of John Wayne in his office.
"John Wayne once said 'courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway,' " she said. "Well, General Welsh, you saddled up each and every day without fail."
James said Welsh "knows his business and most importantly he knows our airmen."
Most poignant were some of the remarks by Welsh's son, Marine Corps 1st Lt. Matt Welsh, whose memories included "hearing Dad speak about the death of a subordinate in combat. I remember listening to the flight tapes from Operation Desert Storm -- the chaos and the calm come out simultaneously. I remember 9/11 and Dad away from home for days, staying at his post in support of his country. I remember the night his sister died -- I remember how he looked at me, not too dissimilar to the way he looked at me following that conversation the night his cadet died.
"Even though I was just a small kid. It's funny the stuff you remember," the younger Welsh said.
In his own remarks, Gen. Welsh also grew most emotional when he talked about his family, including his wife, Betty; his other sons, Mark and John; and daughter, Elizabeth. Also, he said:
"I do need to thank my mom and dad, my sisters and brothers, for showing me the path to a good and decent life," he said, pausing before going on. "And for inspiring me to try and walk it."