FORT BRAGG, NC — In a gripping new tell-all memoir, Army Sgt. 1st Class Marshall 'Snugglebear' Welch has revealed that over the course of his three deployments to Afghanistan, he has accumulated an incredible tally of more than 2,700 confirmed friends on Facebook.
According to a press release from his publisher, Welch estimated his friend-count by keeping a logbook tally of friend requests and care packages received.
"Some days I got so many of them I couldn't keep count – I had to go on a 'best-guess' type of estimate," Welch told reporters. Detractors, however, believe that the numbers may be padded for publicity.
His forthcoming memoir, Pinocchio, tells the story of Welch's multiple deployments in such vivid detail that some readers can hardly believe it.
“It's really incredible,” says Travis Rogers, a military historian and book reviewer for The New York Times. “I mean, for him to have racked up that kind of a count that quickly, that's got to be a record. That's at least two or three people, per day, every day he was overseas.”
“Nobody can be that friendly," he added.
Welch, now a senior NCO with the Fort Bragg Public Affairs Office, first deployed to Afghanistan in 2004 as a member of Task Force Iron Embrace. During this tour, he was assigned as a vehicle gunner for a Civil Affairs team with guidance to “obliterate with extreme prejudice” any lingering doubts Afghan civilians had about American troops. Although he never fired a shot in anger from the turret of his truck, he did paint the gunner's mount to look like a smiling face, with the barrel of his M2 .50-caliber machine gun in place of a nose — earning his vehicle the nickname “Pinocchio,” and inspiring the title for his memoir.
During Welch's second deployment, he was selected for special assignment as a sniper on an elite Civil Affairs team, during which time he made between 100 and 130 new friends. In one chapter, the Army Sergeant recalled having “never felt so alive, as looking down the scope of a rifle, watching a target for hours, waiting for the order to go over there, shake his hand and say 'hello.'”
Welch's military awards include five Good Conduct Medals and an Army Commendation Medal, the highest award possible for decorating a military dining facility. When asked, Welch humbly admits that the award he is most proud of is his Army Service Ribbon, because “it just looks sort of like a rainbow, which is really the friendliest color [sic] out there.”
For all his honorable service, however, Welch's life has had its share of downturns.
In 2012, following his third and final deployment, he was arrested at his son's little league game for Assault with a Friendly Weapon, for open-hand slapping another parent with a foam finger after a heated exchange. Charges were dropped after both parties reached a mutual agreement that "everyone can be a winner with the right attitude," according to court documents.
A married father of three, Welch looks forward to retiring from the military and getting more involved in his wife's gift basket business. He does worry, however, about lingering health issues that have plagued him since his first deployment ended — namely, a weak tendon in his wrist that has left him with a noticeably limp handshake.
“Drinking chai with all these wonderful tribal leaders, shaking hands over promises for wells and construction projects, even handing out all that money and candy, it took its toll on me. I just want the Army to keep its promise to me, the way we kept our promises to the people of Afghanistan.”
Wiping away a tear with difficulty, he adds, "I hope someday to teach my son to fire off a handshake like his old man did, back in the war."