Underprivileged childhood makes Soldier focus on helping others
June 13, 2013
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Soldiers join the Army for many reasons. Some join to serve their country, others join to travel the world, but for some it is a little more personal.
Sgt. 1st Class Allan Welchez, a chief food management NCO assigned to 10th Sustainment Brigade, dropped out of high school and suffered through extreme poverty while living in Brooklyn.
Welchez grew up with seven siblings. His mom was a homemaker and his dad a laborer of many trades.
"Feeding a Family of nine was incredibly challenging," he said.
Even in times where it seemed they had nothing, Welchez said his mom found a way to give back to the community.
He saw his mom offer a homeless man a hot shower, food and clothes. The man was extremely grateful and became good friends with the Family. He was a musician who had immigrated to the U.S. in search of the American dream and fell on hard times.
Years later, Welchez saw the impact his mother's kindness had on the man's life. The man, now with a family of his own, has released a music CD that he dedicated to Welchez's mom.
Welchez joined the Army on May 14, 1993, with a GED diploma. He deliberately set out to improve his education and help others who are less fortunate than him.
"My motivation was the desire to achieve an education beyond a ninth-grade level and not succumb to common urban living," Welchez said. "Since enlisting in the Army, I have made it my mission to provide my services in any capacity."
He began his mission while stationed at his first duty station -- Schweinfurt, Germany -- by helping feed the homeless in the Frankfurt area. He didn't do it through an organization at the time. He did some research and found a place where a helping hand was needed.
"Helping others was common practice during my upbringing," he said. "It felt like second nature to me."
After a permanent-change-of-station move, he found himself at Fort Benning, Ga., where he joined the Salvation Army and the Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America to increase the impact he could have in the community.
"One of the most rewarding events I experience is when my Family and I take in, through the BB/BS mentorship program, an underprivileged child in need of mentorship, love and empathy," he said.
Welchez said he enjoys the time he spends with the children as they play sports, do homework, or simply talk about challenges of life.
While at Fort Benning, he decided to reenlist to continue to serve in the Army. It was then that he began his journey to higher education.
He initially signed up for a few classes with no set goal in mind. Welchez said he felt a great deal of pride knowing he was able to juggle work and school while still having time to volunteer.
Knowing his Family supported him no matter what he did made it all worthwhile.
Another PCS move placed Welchez in Baumholder, Germany. He volunteered where he could, but then a new opportunity arose.
Welchez was deployed in support of Operation Joint Guardian at Camp Able Sentry, Macedonia, where he helped children who were victims of the civil war. He and his Family got involved in assisting the orphans with clothing, school supplies, food and affection. He often counted on his Family to mail some of the supplies to him.
"I have experienced extreme poverty and know firsthand the detrimental psychological and physical effects one endures," Welchez said. "I cannot imagine having to go through that as an orphan."
He said he felt an overwhelming feeling of appreciation and joy while working with the kids.
After his overseas tour was complete, Welchez called Fort McPherson, Ga., home. Wanting to continue to help those in need, he volunteered at homeless shelters for battered women and children. He worked as a handyman and donated clothes that his children outgrew.
While stationed at Fort McPherson, Welchez was awarded a Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, for more than 2,000 hours of his selfless service.
He also earned his first education achievement: he completed more than 60 credit hours of college.
"My most cherished achievement was earning my undergraduate degree," he said. "There were many who told me I was incapable, while others advised me not to waste my time."
Welchez said several of his childhood friends have passed away or are incarcerated, and many people never would have thought he would make something of himself, let alone be a career Soldier with a college degree.
After his assignment in Georgia, he did recruiting duty, and then he was off to Fort Drum.
He finished his bachelor's degree while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, but when he returned home, his focus shifted a bit.
Once here, he immediately reached out to the local Salvation Army and BB/BS programs to continue to offer assistance to the community.
Welchez deployed with the unit in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and within 30 days of redeployment, he was found volunteering to feed those less fortunate during the November holiday season.
"He and his wife, Alice, are such an inspiring couple and great contributors to the community by volunteering their time and dedication," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Yessenia Johnson, 10th Sustainment Brigade food adviser. "Every Thanksgiving, the two of them, along with their three children, help prepare and serve a hot meal to the less fortunate."
Johnson describes Welchez as a true professional, a great role model, and a person who cares and gives a lot to others. She said it is a pleasure knowing him and his Family, and she admires the bond they share with others.
"I urge everyone to get out and volunteer in every community that you live in or near," Welchez said. "Though intangible, the reward in seeing a smile on the face of a child you mentor or a family you feed cannot compare to any other feeling."
Although he spends a lot of his time helping others, Welchez said he understands and appreciates that he cannot do it alone.
"I owe my experience, challenges, success and achievements to the three most beautiful women in my life -- my mother, my wife and my daughter," he said.
His Family has always come first, but their support makes balancing his passions that much easier.
"Allan's many years of placing others first redefines the words 'selfless service,'" said Alice Welchez. "He has illustrated how balancing school, Family, friends, volunteering and his military duties is possible when one applies passion and commitment."
Meanwhile, Welchez is close to another education achievement.
"To date, I have completed approximately half of my master's degree in criminal justice and homeland security with an emphasis in emergency response and management," he said. "Setting a positive example for my three children is what drives my determination in achieving higher education. It is my lifelong dream to one day earn a doctorate in counseling."
Welchez continues to volunteer and study as he reaches retirement. He has the loving support of his Family and the support of his chain of command to continue to pursue his goals.
His next duty station will be Fort Hood, Texas, where he has already made contact with several organizations to continue volunteering, and he also plans to finish his master's degree.
"I would like to one day have the opportunity to mentor and advocate for the plethora of (troubled)youths and young men who crowd our prisons in America," he said. "Nothing has stopped me yet, and nothing will stop me. It is only a matter of time."