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Feature | Aug. 25, 2006

New Sound of Freedom goes back two decades

By Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher 1st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

When then Tactical Air Command Gen. Bob Russ asked then Lt. Col. Jay Welsh to put on a tattoo like the one he saw at Randolph AFB earlier that year, Mr. Welsh had no idea that nearly 20 years later, he'd still be doing it or that it would become such an integral part of Langley's culture. 

Today, the Air Combat Command Tattoo remains virtually unchanged from the one coordinated and narrated by Mr. Welsh in 1987, only changing to reflect changes within the command itself. 

"He wanted a military tattoo to re-blue the force, motivate Airmen and make them aware of their heritage," Mr. Welsh said. 

But a simple music show wasn't enough. 

"A traditional tattoo is essentially a musical show with marching units and military music," he said. "I thought that restricted the capability and versatility of the TAC Band. If we put them on stage, we could tell a story and have some historical continuity." 

With that thought, work began on a tattoo that would be more than a concert.
"It was going to be a memorial ceremony as well as a retreat," said Mr. Welsh. "With words, music, drill ceremony, airplanes, fireworks, ghosts..." 

Wait, did he say "ghosts?" 

"Toward the end, we call up the ghosts of four Airmen who have served their country from Korea to the Middle East," he explained. "I had a young pilot and crew chief come out and salute each in turn. It's very moving." 

While the tattoo remains unchanged since 1987, Mr. Welsh said the changes that are made reflect the changes in ACC itself. For example, since ACC has recently reacquired the search and rescue mission, one of the ghosts at this year's tattoo will be that of a pararescueman. 

"The emphasis has changed from TAC to ACC, and that's reflected by the people up on stage during the memorial ceremony," he said. "It reflects the new nature of the command." 

Even with minimal changes, the Tattoo is a perennial favorite in the Hampton Roads area. 

"It has been very successful," Mr. Welsh said. "We have people who come to the rehearsals and then the tattoos themselves year after year. I didn't feel it was necessary to mess with a successful program." 

"It is a family event," he continued, "something we can all relate to as Americans. It can touch and reach us in an emotional fashion. It reminds those in uniform why we serve, and reminds our civilian friends the sacrifice made by those in uniform." 

At the time of the first tattoo, Mr. Welsh was director of Command Visual Communications. He retired as a colonel in 1992, but continued on at Air Combat Command, and made a point of coordinating and narrating the annual tattoo. He said he'll continue for as long as they'll let him. 

"I've been with the Air Force for 43 years, 30 of them in uniform," he said. "If they want to keep doing it after I retire, I'd be glad to work it, but that's not my decision."