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April 5, 2011

UT-Arlington graduate killed in Afghanistan

Robert F. Welch III is remembered as "a real role model for other cadets."

Editor's note: The report was originally published in the Star-Telegram on April 3, 2011.

Read more: A young lieutenant who graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington and entered the U.S. Army was killed Sunday in Afghanistan on his first combat deployment.

First Lt. Robert F. Welch III, 26, of Wylie died of wounds sustained when a mortar shell landed near him while he was patrolling the perimeter of his forward operating base in the Khost province, near the Pakistani border, according to the Defense Department and a family friend. (The Defense Department incorrectly listed his hometown as Denton, according to friends.)

He was an ordnance officer in Company B, 201st Brigade Support Battalion in the storied 1st Infantry Division.

"When the soldiers on the FOB found out, over 200 of them lined up to give blood for Robby," said Morris Vincent, a longtime family friend. "They just couldn't retrieve the blood fast enough."

Lt. Welch's body returned to U.S. soil Tuesday at Dover Air Force Base, Del., and was met by his father, Robert Welch II, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, and Lt. Welch's wife, Becky.

Services are pending, but he will be buried at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.

Lt. Welch graduated from UT-Arlington in 2008 with a degree in military science and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, which was precisely what his friends and family knew he would do.

His first Army post was Fort Knox, Ky.

"He had been in JROTC in high school, so it was clearly what he wanted to do," Vincent said. "He really loved his country. There are all kinds of reasons people sign up -- his was duty-oriented."

In the UT-Arlington corps of cadets, Lt. Welch had a reputation as a superb motivator and listener for younger cadets, said retired Maj. Ricardo Diaz, the commandant.

"He was a tremendous individual, a real role model for other cadets, always reliable, fun to be around," Diaz said.

Lt. Welch was one of three cadets who, in 2008, proposed the idea of marching from Arlington to Fort Hood to commemorate a road march in 1960 by UT-Arlington cadets, known as "the Long March."

But the 155-mile journey didn't happen until 2010, and by then, Lt. Welch was busy in the Army.

"We definitely had him in our thoughts when we did the march, if you know what I mean," Diaz said. "We thought, 'Who came up with this idea? WELCH!!'"

In Wylie, a town east of Plano in Collin County, Lt. Welch played football, participated in Junior ROTC and served as a leader in his church youth group, Vincent said. He graduated from high school there in 2003.

"Our church has at least one annual mission trip, mostly abroad," he said. "He was very involved with the youth group. Anytime there was a mission opportunity, he knew he would be going."

His hometown was also where he met his wife, who gave birth to their first child last year, Robert Welch IV.

Among his awards were the Army Achievement Medal, as well as the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, both awarded posthumously.

He is also survived by his mother, Barbara Welch, and sister, Jane.

Chris Vaughn, 817-390-7547

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