Commentary

June 27, 2014

Farewell to ‘Mecca’

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Col. Barry R. Cornish
99th Air Base Wing commander

Col. Barry Cornish, 99th Air Base Wing commander, sits for a media interview answering questions about his air force career June 17 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Cornish is set to relinquish command during a ceremony here June 27th, after two years in the position. The 99th ABW provides installation support for more than 10,000 personnel assigned to Nellis AFB, Creech AFB and the Nevada Test & Training Range.

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — When I flew up initial [in the overhead flight pattern] at Nellis AF B for the first time almost 20 years ago, I was a young wingman in an F-15 on my way from Georgia to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska.

As my flight lead Chewy and I charted our route on a map back at base operations, I eagerly asked him where we’d be stopping on our way to McChord AFB, where we would be picking up our tanker. He looked at me and said, “Where else, ‘Mecca,’” as his finger dropped on Nellis. During the preflight briefing, Chewy, a seasoned combat veteran, spent a considerable amount of time on proper formation skills in the pattern here at Nellis, for reasons that were not yet clear to me. After a glorious two day stay, we were all set to depart when my jet broke, an oil pressure gauge kept us here another day. Chewy had a hard time explaining to our squadron commander why we needed to stay longer in Las Vegas. It must have seemed a convenient excuse for another night in ‘Mecca.’

Here’s my point, in that first trip to Nellis, I learned three important lessons that have stayed with me all these years. First, everyone is trying to get to Nellis AFB. Second, no one wants to leave. And finally, when you are coming up initial at Nellis, you better look good. That last one is what I want to leave you with as I finish up four years here as both the 57th Wing vice commander and the 99th Air Base Wing commander, quite simply, Nellis is a special place. It’s the heart and soul of our Air Force, the birthplace of tomorrow’s victories, and as Gen. Bill Creech famously said, “as goes Nellis, so goes the Air Force.”

From the moment I first set foot on the ramp here, I noticed everything seemed to be just a little bit better than at any other base I had been. The jets, aerospace ground equipment, and fuel trucks were always neatly parked and impeccably maintained. The grounds and facilities were meticulously groomed. Airmen walked the flightline with just a little more purpose, and uniforms were immaculate despite the desert heat. It seemed like of all the aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory, many different types were represented here. The transient ramp was chock full of jets from all over, it seemed a lot of other Airmen had the same plan we did, ‘Mecca.’ I walked the halls of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School seeing pictures of the legends who had once called Nellis home, retired Brig. Gen. Robin Olds, Gen. Richard Myers, Gen. John Jumper, on and on. I knew I had to get back here again, someday.

I then began to understand why Chewy had spent a bit more time polishing my formation skills before we arrived, it was because this wasn’t just any Air Force base, it was Nellis, home of all that is good and right. It was about pride. It was about what we represented. The way I looked and acted was a reflection on him [Chewy], and on our squadron back home. I never forgot that important lesson, and it carries on throughout the world today. At bases all over the planet, Airmen are trying to emulate, perform and replicate the way it’s done here. There are no special rules or different procedures, it’s just that Airmen at Nellis are able to execute standard procedures flawlessly, which makes it just seem better. Allied Air Forces come here from all over the world to learn from us. They watch what we do, they listen to what we say, and they want to be like us. Our enemies are watching too, because they fear us, they fear Nellis, and they fear Creech.

For more than 70 years, Airmen have been coming to Nellis to learn, to test their equipment, their tactics, and themselves. It has been the anvil upon which our Air Force has been steeled and hardened since before we became an Air Force, and it will be where the next war is won. Not a day has gone by during the last four years that I haven’t remembered this important fact. To have played even a small part in perpetuating our important mission has been the highlight of my career. To have been able to humbly serve such incredible Airmen has left me with a sense of pride I can scarcely describe. And, although I’m leaving for duty elsewhere, I am thankful once again that I go better than I was before. I have the men and women of Nellis and Creech to thank for that.




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