Extension educator receives Bronze Star


CINCINNATI — Navy reservist Glenn Welling recalls his time in Iraq as an “incredible year.” The Ohio State University Extension educator received the Bronze Star for his service in a pre-game ceremony at the Ohio State-Navy football game, the Buckeye’s season opener.

During his June 2008-June 2009 service in Iraq, Welling was Command Master Chief for a Navy Provisional Detainee Battalion, in charge of personal and professional development for 450 sailors in the battalion.

The battalion was first stationed at Camp Bucca, the world’s largest detention facility, located in southern Iraq.

“It held about 27,000 detainees when we arrived,” Welling said.

In January, as U.S. forces began a draw-down and many Camp Bucca detainees began being released, Welling’s battalion moved north to Camp Taji Theater Internment Facility Reconciliation Center, about 25 miles from Baghdad.

“We were asked to go up to help complete that facility and help run it when it opened,” Welling said.

About 5,000 high-threat detainees from Camp Bucca soon joined them.

Bronze star

Welling’s Bronze Star recognizes the fact that during his command, there was not a single incident of misconduct or abuse of detainees.

“Military personnel who work in detention facilities are under constant threat of hostile action,” Welling said. “We were face-to-face with the enemy, for 12-hour shifts, each and every day that we were stationed there.”

Add to that the scrutiny of detainee operations after the “horrible Abu Ghraib situation,” and “there was no room for error.”

Under the new security agreement set in motion between the U.S. and Iraq Jan. 1, detainee operations have been called the most strategically important mission in Iraq, Welling said.

“It’s a real point of pride that our guard force members came through. Frankly, this is their award, not mine alone.”


Welling said the mission of the battalion was to provide “care, custody and control, and to treat detainees with dignity and respect.”

That wasn’t always easy, with some detainees acting out in ways designed to provoke a negative reaction from guards, and others threatening violence.

“We had one instance in which one of our guard force members got himself into a situation where he was surrounded by 20 detainees; another sailor went into the fray and pulled him out of harm’s way.

“In another situation, a sailor, a young woman from Minnesota, thwarted an escape attempt — these guys were over the fence and running away. In no case did our guard force ever do anything over the line. We only ever used the amount of force necessary to control the situation.”

Only reservist

Welling, who during his first six months of service was the only reservist (as opposed to active-duty personnel) in the battalion, said in some ways he misses his time in Iraq.

“The opportunity to be in a leadership position in a combat zone — I had such a sense of contribution, commitment and service. And not just military service, but service to others. I believe we provided a great service to the Iraqi people. When our detainees’ family members visited at Camp Bucca, they saw their loved ones getting the same medical care as American service members had. We offered educational programs — Iraq has about a 65 percent literacy rate, but while being detained many learned to read for themselves.

“We offered training in employable skills, such as horticulture and woodworking. We emphasized nutrition — the average detainee gained 25 pounds. Visitors saw that they weren’t bleeding and bruised and beaten — they were in good spirits, other than being detained. And family members would leave and tell that story all across Iraq.”

Welling, who was director of the Hamilton County office of OSU Extension before he left, returned to the Extension as the community development educator for the nine-county Miami Valley Extension Education and Research Area in southwest Ohio.

Support from colleagues

He said he’s grateful for the support he received from his Extension colleagues during his deployment.

“One day I received 13 or 14 boxes” — care packages that he distributed among members of his battalion.

“All of it got shared, although I did keep the large Ohio State flag that came in one mailing. I hung it in my office over there,” Welling said. “But those packages were a tremendous gift to all of the other folks who were stationed with me.”

Welling lives in Anderson Township on the east side of Cincinnati with his wife of 25 years, Marie. They have four children, ranging in age from 9 to 24. He has been in the U.S. Navy just over 30 years, 26 of which have been as a Selected Reservist.

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