Rear Admiral Dave Welch is a native of Peoria, Illinois. He is a 1987 graduate of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where he received a Bachelor of Sciences in English. He earned a Master of Arts degree in National Security Affairs from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California in 1994, and was a 2014 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Seminar XXI fellow.
Welch has commanded the guided missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93), Destroyer Squadron 31, and the Surface Warfare Officers School Command in Newport, Rhode Island.
His other sea duty assignments included main propulsion and deck division officer on USS Nassau (LHA 4); navigator on USS Ticonderoga (CG 47); flag lieutenant to Commander, Cruiser Destroyer Group Eight; engineer officer on USS Anzio (CG 68); and executive officer on USS Lake Erie (CG 70).
Ashore, Welch’s assignments have included three tours in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations; placement and assignment officer in Millington, Tennessee, United States Pacific Command as Deputy Director, Resources and Requirements; and as special assistant in the Office of Legislative Affairs for the Secretary of Defense. Most recently Welch served as director, International Engagements (OPNAV N52).
Welch is the third commander of the Naval Surface and Mine Warfare Development Center.
His awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal and various other personal, unit and service awards.
How has failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
I’ve made mistakes throughout my career. For example, I made an awful decision as OOD to come left in a traffic separation scheme when my ship was the give way vessel. My ship ended up executing a 360-degree port turn to avoid a contact!
As a mid-grade officer in my first Pentagon tour, I failed to properly prepare an Admiral for a meeting with counterparts on another part of the OPNAV staff and a Congressional staffer.
As a Commanding Officer of CHUNG-HOON, I made a decision to depart port without having completed refueling operations which had a direct impact on the Fleet replenishment schedule.
In each case I received feedback from my Commanders and Commanding Officers. In no case was the feedback personal, though I initially took it that way – my reactions ranged from frustration to outright distress. But in each case these leaders also asked me what I did wrong and what I had learned. That made an impression on me … my leaders were willing to engage with me, and allow me to work out what I had done wrong and what I needed to do differently. I came away from each of these three cases (and many others) with a keen understanding of the need to communicate intentions clearly and concisely up front and the need to work as part of a team.
These are lasting lessons that have played a profound impact in how I approach work, and how I approach mentorship.
Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
I have heard it said that “men speak in movie quotes.” Whether that is true or not, one of my very favorite quotes comes near the end of the baseball movie “A League of Their Own.” Two of the main characters, Jimmy Dugan (played by Tom Hanks) and Dottie Hinson (played by Gena Davis), are in conversation. Dottie has decided to walk away from the biggest game of the season – for very good reasons -- and she says something like, “It just got too hard.” Jimmy looks directly at her and says, “It is supposed to be hard. If it were easy anyone could do it. The hard is what makes it great.” We do extraordinary things throughout the United States Navy and some of them are complex, or just plain hard. I am not advocating to make things deliberately difficult, but our ability to accomplish tough tasks and complete demanding missions is what makes us the greatest Navy in the history of the world.
On a personal level I am inspired and challenged by a quote from the Gospel of Mark: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” This reminds me that authority and responsibility are not given for personal gain, but rather are given that we might selflessly serve those we are privileged to lead and to work with.
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Do you have a morning routine?
I go through a morning yoga routine to start the morning. I had my knees replaced last year, and balance, flexibility and core strength have been key to recovery. I spend time reading, and then I review the day’s schedule and think about my priorities and goals for the day – I write those down each morning, so they are fresh in my mind. Then I review personal email and take a first look at work email. Oh, and there’s coffee as I read and think … always a good cup of joe to get me started.
What career advice would you give a smart and driven young SWO? What advice should they ignore?
First, have an insatiable sense of professional curiosity – set out to learn something new each day. I’ve been able to do that for over 31 years and there is still MUCH to learn!
Next, appearance matters and attitude counts as a leader. People are not inspired by cynics and pessimists. Be a positive and inspirational leader, while remaining true to your personality and character.
Finally, read. Read widely and deeply. Fiction, nonfiction, history … when you read something that is well-written, it stays with you and it makes you think.
I would advise young Officers to be circumspect about advice that any “one thing” that will set them up for success … a certain assignment, a specific program, or that one area of expertise. Rather, embrace each assignment as an opportunity to learn and grow.
What is the book you’ve given most as a gift and why?
I was privileged to assist the current Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, with his confirmation preparations. On the day he was sworn in, I gave Secretary Spencer a copy of “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors” and highlighted the name of CDR Ernest Evans, whose calm courage in the face of overwhelming odds is an inspiration. Beyond Evans, there are so many tremendous examples of heroism and character in those pages.
How do you set priorities and manage time?
I like to start with an understanding of the mission. In the case of SMWDC, the mission is concise: to increase lethality and improve tactical proficiency in our Surface Forces. SMWDC’s four lines of operation flow directly from that mission (advanced tactical training; TTP and doctrine development; operational support; and capability assessments, experimentation and future requirements). Then I look at the explicit and implied tasks that come to us, and prioritize them based on whether or not they support the mission and lines of operations.
I once heard that you can tell a lot about a person based on where they spend their time and their money. In that vein, I also think it important to examine where resources are applied, to ensure alignment with priorities. I am grateful to have a great team at SMWDC, who help keep us focused on the right things.
I will add that in life we never have enough resources to do everything we want. The same is true professionally, which is why priorities are critical. I am keen to understand both what we do and what we choose not to do, again to ensure we are aligned with our priorities.
On a personal level, I ask my team to maintain a balance between work and family life, time to think deeply and consider challenging problems, and maintenance of physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
What is your most effective daily habit?
I already talked about it … taking the time to articulate priorities and goals to myself each day. Also, spending time with my wife and friends when I am home helps me maintain perspective and balance. Staying actively engaged in healthy, mutually supportive relationships that aren’t strictly focused on the workplace is a great source of strength for me.
While there are days when my schedule does not support it, I do find that stepping away for physical training helps me think more clearly.
How do you define success?
Achievement by those I have been privileged to serve and work with – that is my definition of success. I love watching others grow more mature, select for promotion, carry out challenging assignments, and achieve personal and professional goals. When someone I worked with comes back to me and says, “You said it would be challenging but rewarding and it was – I loved it!” That is awesome.