Capt. David Welch, 321st Expeditionary Medical Squadron pharmacist, fills a syringe with Thrombin Sept. 9, 2011, at Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Iraq. Welch left his job as a retail pharmacist at Revco to serve in the Air Force. (Courtesy Photo)
Capt. David Welch, 321st Expeditionary Medical Squadron pharmacist, carries IV bags Sept. 9, 2011, at Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Iraq. Welch left his job as a retail pharmacist at Revco to serve in the Air Force. (Courtesy Photo)
by Senior Airman Chuck Broadway
9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force/Air Component Coordination Element- Iraq Public Affairs
9/29/2011 - KIRKUK REGIONAL AIR BASE, Iraq -- In 2001, David Welch was a retail pharmacist. He had a six-figure salary, a new Jeep Wrangler 4X4, and a big house in the coastal town of Beaufort, N.C. Along with a wife and young daughter, he had everything a man could want. He still felt something was missing.
Then his country was attacked and everything changed. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, and with the support of his family, Welch made a life changing decision that filled the hole in his life.
Welch left his hard work behind and became Capt. David Welch, an Air Force pharmacist. Now at the 321st Expeditionary Medical Squadron at Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Welch is serving the country he loves.
Welch had wanted to join the military for many years. Upon graduating from pharmacy school at Campbell University in 1997, he entered an Air Force recruiting office. However, he had more than $80,000 in student loans to pay off and the Air Force wasn't looking for pharmacists at the time.
"I was confused," said Welch, a Gainesville, Fla., native deployed from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. "I was disappointed that my country didn't need me."
Then came the events of 9/11.
While visiting family in Greenville, N.C., Welch had just walked into a local restaurant when he felt his 2-year-old daughter, Maddison, tug at his sleeve and point to a TV.
"Daddy, are those people getting hurt?" she asked.
"I looked up to see the horrible attack on our country unfold," Welch replied.
Like many Americans that day, Welch said he felt shock, horror and hurt as he stared at the TV screen.
"The horrible deaths these unarmed citizens were facing was heart wrenching," he said. "Those people were burning, jumping, and crushed. "They had daughters they would never hug again and a wife or husband they would never see, touch, or hear from again. It was horrible."
Welch immediately began to re-evaluate his priorities.
Until then he had lived comfortably. Each day, he would coast through the day with little satisfaction. His mission was focused on how much money he could make instead of what he could make of himself.
Seemingly motivated by former President John F. Kennedy's 1960 inauguration speech, Welch asked "...not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
"I couldn't stand by while the United States waged a war on terror," said Welch. "(I couldn't) simply just go to work and come home to my nice cozy house. I love my family and our citizens and wanted to do more to protect them."
He wanted to go to a recruiter's office immediately, however he remembered the Air Force didn't have much need for pharmacists. He was also unsure of the support he would receive from his family.
In 2007, while sitting in his Jeep with his wife Anna, he received the confirmation he desired for so long.
"Go on and do what you've wanted to do for 10 years," his wife said.
With those words of support, Welch entered a recruiter's office once again and finally began his career in the Air Force.
"She's much happier with her 'warrior' doing what he feels called to do," Welch said of his wife. "My wife actually encouraged me to volunteer for this current deployment to Iraq. It's impressive when you consider that left her with our four kids to take care of all by herself."
At Kirkuk, Welch fills more than 1,000 prescriptions each month as the base's only pharmacist. Wearing many hats, he also assists with operations and is the diagnostic and therapeutic flight commander in charge of radiology, pharmacy and the blood lab.
Although he gave up a relaxing life in 2007, Welch said the sense of pride and fulfillment has meant much more than the material goods he once lived for.
"The complacency I was lulled into, coasting on the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears of our parents and grandparents, has been replaced by conviction," Welch said. "Freedom is not free and I get that now."