Mike Welding may be new to the Pacific Northwest, but he is no stranger to the tasks awaiting him as the new Public Affairs Officer at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
Welding took over the post in January, filling a position left vacant by longtime base spokesperson, Kimberly Martin, who retired Nov. 30. Martin’s successor is a 26-year veteran of the Navy, retiring in 2004 as a Senior Chief.
Raised in West Point Iowa, Welding had three younger brothers. The Navy fit with his desire to explore more than the Midwest.
“I wanted to see the world,” he said during a conversation over a cup of plain, black coffee. “I guess I was searching for something and bought into the slogan ‘Join the Navy and see the world.’”
Starting as an Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handler), Welding began to look for other challenges.
“I wanted to stay in the Navy but I was looking for something else to do,” he said. “I liked to write, so I cross-rated (changed jobs) to journalist.”
Welding’s first assignment as a journalist was aboard the USS Midway (CV-41). From there he worked as the broadcast operations supervisor and news director a the Far East Network at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. He served in Hawaii with U.S. Pacific Command, then went back to Japan to serve as the PAO aboard the USS Belleau Wood/USS Essex. He also served as the officer in charge, FSD Yokosuaka, Japan.
Following his retirement, Welding took a break from public affairs by working as the Naval Science instructor for the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Seaford High School in Seaford, Del.
“Working with the kids was rewarding,” he said. “The impact you can make on kids is tremendous.”
Armed with his easy-going, friendly style, he found his way back into public affairs when he took a job at U.S. Navy Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Md. From there, Welding moved to a position as PAO for Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Division, in Indian Head, Md. While there, he worked mostly with scientists and researchers, which is one reason the position at NAS Whidbey appealed to him.
“I’m looking forward to working with the active duty community,” he said. The transition for Welding has overall been an easy one, he said, with the possible exception of the cross-country move.
Married since 1985, Welding and his wife, Kiyomi, have three children — two sons and one daughter. Their eldest son is in the Air Force, their daughter is in the Coast Guard and their youngest son has transferred to Skagit Valley College in Oak Harbor. He, too, has plans for a military career after school.
Welding said he is looking forward to enhancing communication with the local community and hopes to be able to educate and inform people. He also knows there will be challenges ahead, such as dealing with the noise issue at Outlying Field south of Coupeville.
“Noise is something we’re going to constantly deal with,” he said. “But the airfield is significant for training requirements and anything I can do to educate and inform people is important.”
Another challenge will be disseminating information. With the recent announcement that Navy Region Northwest will cease publication of the Northwest Navigator at the end of March, Welding and other PAOs will be looking at different ways to get base news out.
“We’re going to be reaching out even more to the community and to Whidbey News Group to get the stories about the base and our personnel out there,” Welding said. “We’ll also be using social media like Facebook and our website to get the word out.”
All in all, it’s been a warm welcome for this former sailor.
“Everybody has been so helpful,” he said. “I jumped right in, which is OK with me.”“Everybody has been so helpful,” he said. “I jumped right in, which is OK with me.”