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Eglin pharmacist leaves 6-figure salary to serve country

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mindy Bloem
  • 506th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
The year is 2007. A pharmacist and his wife sit inside their Jeep in the parking lot of an Air Force recruiter station. The couple is engaged in a familiar conversation.

It's been 10 years since the pharmacist has seen a recruiter, but he hasn't been able to get the military out of his mind in all that time.

Like any loyal companion, the woman advises her husband to follow his heart and at least check it out.

He does and finds out that, unlike 10 years ago, a pharmacist with his experience level is much needed for the war effort.

"I thought I was too old," said Capt. David Welch, a pharmacist with the 506th Expeditionary Medical Squadron and diagnostic and therapeutic flight commander. "I was comfortable with my six-figure income. It was hard to give up all that money, but it's always something that pulled me."

Captain Welch is currently deployed from the 96th Medical Support Squadron at Eglin AFB, Fla.

When he first graduated from pharmacy school, Captain Welch saw a recruiter. However, in 1997, pharmacists weren't as in demand as they are now in a time of war. As a result, he spent 10 years in the civilian sector getting burned out.

"In the civilian world, you work 14-hour days," he recalled. "I've gone 14 hours straight without a break. It's a high stress. There's a reason why they pay us so much as civilians."

After 9/11 happened, Captain Welch began to re-evaluate his priorities in life.

"I thought I'm an able-bodied male, and what I'm doing is going to and from work making a $100,000 to $150,000 a year," he said. "It wasn't very fulfilling. Having my whole mission in life to make money wasn't sitting well."

It's no wonder,either, that the military was an option that Captain Welch considered. He comes from a long line of military veterans. Both of his grandfathers, on both his mom and dad's side, served in the Army during World War II. His mom's dad was a combat medic, and his dad's father served as a gunnery officer.

If that weren't enough, both his dad and uncle are retired lieutenant colonels who served as Army Rangers. In fact, his uncle is a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross and is being considered for the Congressional Medal of Honor for acts conducted during the Vietnam War.

With all the military history in his family, it's no surprise Captain Welch couldn't get away from his military heritage for too long.

"Here I was around these two hard-core men, and what does my dad's first-born son become ... a pharmacist -- a retail pharmacist -- no less," he joked.

Captain Welch was commissioned into the Air Force in 2008 and hasn't looked back.

"It was absolutely the right decision," he said. "Here I have tons of customer interaction. I get to serve some of the coolest people in the country. World War II veterans are coming to my outpatient clinic. These are the people I grew up admiring, and now I get to serve them. It's just awesome."

This is the captain's first deployment. He has been here more than a month but said time is speeding by. He is enjoying the diverse interaction he's getting on a daily basis.

"I see patients from all over, and it's a wonderful experience," he said. "The kind of gratitude I see on their faces is so rewarding. It's been wonderful to be a part of helping them out."

Captain Welch said he is looking forward to a full career in the military.

"You don't at 38 years old join the military if you don't think you're going to be in it for the long haul," he said.