by Stuart Ibberson, special to Desert Lightning Nellis / Creech edition
Jan. 1, 2020, dawned as the beginning of a new year – just like any other new year. But this past year was unlike any in living memory.
Early in the year, news of the COVID-19 coronavirus started percolating and before we knew it, the entire world was in the midst of a global pandemic.
Businesses started closing, people were ordered to stay at home and life as we knew it changed.
Face mask became a common sight, telecommuting became something almost every became familiar with, and social distancing became the norm. The Defense Department issued a worldwide stop movement order – postponing TDYs and permanent change of station moves. Local commanders issued ever increasing restrictions on who could enter a base and when.
But through it all, the mission of defending the United States, training new recruits, and advanced training and exercises, continued. Recruits still headed to basic training, advanced training classes still went ahead, and Red Flag and Green Flag exercises continued. Air shows around the world were cancelled, but the Thunderbirds still flew – honoring frontline workers with flyovers of hospitals and medical facilities across the country.
Meetings, conferences, changes of command and promotion ceremonies continued – albeit socially distanced and virtually.
And by December, the first tranche of COVID-19 vaccines were being administered to frontline healthcare workers at Nellis, Creech, and at the Southern Nevada VA Healthcare System.
In this special issue of Desert Lightning News, we take a look back at 2020 and what it meant to the service members and retirees who live and work in and around Nellis and Creech Air Force Bases.
ACC leadership visit reflects past, forecasts future
Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command, addresses officers in the lead photo during an all call at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 7, 2020. Holmes touched on several subjects from leadership to the future of the Remotely Piloted Aircraft enterprise. First, Holmes and Wade discussed the progress of current and future developments to the infrastructure and missions of Creech Air Force Base with 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing leadership. Conversations included continued pursuit for short and long-terms quality of life improvements. Among the discussed were various military construction projects, such as the fast-approaching opening of a new Force Support Building.
Red Flag 20-1 gets underway
Three F-16C Fighting Falcon fighter jets assigned to the 64th Aggressors Squadron (AGRS) prepare to take off from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Feb. 11, 2020. The 64th AGRS provides realistic adversary replication to deliver the most accurate training to participants at Red Flag 20-1. More than 80 aircraft took part, departing Nellis twice a day, and remaining in the air for up to five hours during Red Flag.
Singapore Air Show kicks-off Hunters’ 2020 season
A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper with the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing sits on display during Singapore Airshow 2020, at Changi Air Base East, Republic of Singapore, Feb. 11, 2020. Singapore Airshow is the largest defense exhibition and biennial international tradeshow in the Pacific, the U.S. has the largest international presence at the Singapore Airshow. This was the first time the MQ-9 Reaper has been on display at Singapore Airshow with the 432nd WG/432nd AEW. The airshow, on the other hand, has been around for seven iterations. Singapore Airshow is a biennial event and is the largest defense exhibition and international tradeshow in the Pacific.
DOD institutes Stop Movement order
The Department of Defense issued a stop movement of all personnel to, from or through Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designated Level 3 COVID-19 locations effective March 13 and for the next 60 days. Following Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper’s announcement of new travel restrictions, the Air Force began implementing and complying with this guidance. The stop movement applies to all forms of official travel such as permanent change of station, temporary duty, and government-funded leave for uniformed and civilian personnel and includes personal leave and other non-official travel for uniformed personnel. Level 3 locations currently include most of Europe, South Korea, China, and Iran. However these are subject to change as determined by the CDC.
Innovative Airmen help ‘shield’ from pandemic
Tech. Sgt. Matthew J. Bobbitt, 57th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron resource advisor, opens the cover to a Fusion 3 F410 3D printer on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., March 30, 2020. Bobbitt, is using four simple objects: a 3D printer, transparency film, rubber bands and clips, costing roughly $4 to print each face shield for healthcare workers on base. “Our ability to overcome an adversary, such as COVID-19, is just like any other adversary,” said Bobbitt, a 57th AMXS resource advisor. “We have to adapt and overcome together to win.” Bobbitt and his team came up with the idea while brainstorming ways to help fight COVID-19.
Public Health Emergency
On April 3, Col. Cavan Craddock, 99th Air Base Wing commander, declared a public health emergency and announced the following changes for access to Nellis Air Force Base. These restrictions will remain in place until further notice:
• Beginning April 6, access to the base will be limited to mission essential personnel and those who reside on the installation. Retirees will continue to be able to access the Satellite Pharmacy through April 10.
• Starting April 11, only essential personnel and residents of the base will be granted access to the installation.
• The Mike O’Callaghan Military Medical Center will remain open for emergencies and required appointments for all beneficiaries, including retirees.
• The Commissary and Base Exchange will remain open for mission essential personnel and their dependents only.
Dormant, not deactivated
The 42nd Attack Squadron forms a “Forty-Deuce” for a group photo at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 5, 2020. After 13 years of non-stop combat operations, the 42nd ATKS marked its end of operations with this final squadron photo, a final sortie in Afghanistan, and handed its combat lines over to the other squadrons within the 25th Attack Group. The squadron’s final sortie down-range out of Creech, Jan. 31, 2020. Born out of combat necessity, the “Forty-Deuce” was re-activated in 2006 and became the first squadron to fly the MQ-9 Reaper, beginning its combat operations in September 2007. Thirteen years of non-stop combat operations later, the 42nd ATKS has marked its end of operations with a final sortie in Afghanistan, and is handing its combat lines over to the other squadrons within the 25th Attack Group. “Our mission here at the 42nd is to save lives,” said Lt. Col. Landon Quan, commander of the 42nd ATKS. “We do that through a number of different mission sets and sometimes that means we have to take life to preserve it.” The origin of the squadron dates back to June of 1917, when it originally served as the 42nd Aero Squadron, flying the “Jenny” JN-4.
Nellis, RAAF team up to support Australia wildfire relief
A Royal Australian Air Force loadmaster watches as pallets of fire suppressant are loaded onto an Australian C-17 Globemaster III, January 16, 2020, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The RAAF has been working to secure extra materials to aid in the fighting of Australian wildfires. Australians had been battling devastating wildfires since September of 2019. More than 13 million acres burned across the country as fire fighters and emergency responders continue to battle the blazes. Members of the Royal Australian Air Force and Nellis Air Force Base teamed up to load more than 50 bundles of fire suppressant and other critical firefighting equipment onto three RAAF C-17s so it could be delivered to the Australian Emergency authorities and Rural Fire Service. The Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, was thankful of the support of the United States Air Force and United States stakeholders assisting with this movement of supplies. “The Royal Australian Air Force deeply appreciates the offer of help from the United States Air Force,” said Air Marshal Hupfeld. “The Australian people are comforted to know that in times of need, we have great friends like the United States who are ready to lend a hand. This is yet another example of the strength of our long-term friendship between our countries.” The 99th Logistics Readiness Squadron provided help throughout the entire process. Airmen from both Air Forces worked alongside each other to load the aircraft quickly and efficiently so they could get back to Australia with the vital equipment.
Red Flag 20-2
A Spanish air force Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft ascends in preparation for Red Flag 20-2 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., March 6, 2020. The Typhoon is a new generation multi-role/ swing-role combat aircraft and offers wide-range operational capabilities. As one of the U.S. Air Force’s largest combat training exercises, this iteration includes participants from various services, including U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines as well as our allied forces from the Italian, German and Spanish air forces. Red Flag exercises provide mission commanders, maintenance personnel, ground controllers, and air, space and cyber operators the opportunity to experience realistic combat scenarios to prepare for future warfare.
A German air force Tornado aircraft prepares to takeoff at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, March 6, 2020. Amongst German air force, the Italian and Spanish air forces are also participating in the second rendition of Red Flag 20-2.
57th Wing earns 14th Outstanding Unit Award
For the 14th time in its history, Air Combat Command officials recently announced the 57th Wing, led by Brig. Gen. Michael R. Drowley, as among the very best, as it earned the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for the period of June 1, 2019, to May 31, 2020. In a message to all wing personnel, Drowley declared, “I want to thank each of you for your hard work and commitment to our mission, as the Air Force’s premier advanced training wing and congratulate you on your successes. “Your commitment and work?ethic are second to none, and the evidence of your impact on the nation’s combat readiness cannot be highlighted enough,” he added. “Train – Instruct – Lead,” is the mission statement of the 57th, the United States Air Force’s most diverse wing, as it continues to perform an extremely vital role in ensuring the success of Air Force objectives. Its vision is “America’s Airmen prepared to lead, fight and win our nation’s wars.” Wing personnel provide advanced air and space training to Air Force, joint and coalition warfighters while managing the fast-paced and demanding flying operations at Nellis Air Force Base.
Air Force chief of staff installed
Proclaiming himself “proud, yet humbled,” Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., was officially installed Aug. 6 as the Air Force’s 22nd Chief of Staff, becoming the first African-American in history to lead a military service as its highest ranking officer. In remarks following the formal “Change of Responsibility” ceremony in which he took over from retiring Gen. David Goldfein, the 21st Chief of Staff, Brown acknowledged an array of people who influenced his life. Among them were his wife Sharene and his parents as well as a list of Air Force colleagues, including Goldfein and other “extraordinary leaders.” Yet, cognizant of the moment in history, Brown also noted, “Today is possible due to the perseverance of those who went before me serving as an inspiration to me and many others. “Those like the Tuskegee Airmen, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., Chappie James, African-American leaders across our Air Force and military, past and present to include today’s special guest Mr. Ed Dwight, America’s first African American astronaut candidate,” he said. “It is due to their trials and tribulations in breaking barriers that I can address you today as the Air Force Chief of Staff.”
DOD activates MQ-9s for imagery support in wildland fire fighting
Airman 1st Class Michael, 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief speaks to a pilot via walkie-talkie before takeoff at Creech Air Force Base, Sept. 26. Aircrews provided real-time video in an effort to map fire perimeters and alert first responders of the spread and potential impact of the fires in California. At the request of the National Interagency Fire Center and upon approval by the DoD, U.S. Northern Command activated the 432nd to provide Incident Awareness and Assessment support using the MQ-9 aircraft to aid civil authorities in California. This is the first time active-duty aircraft from the 432nd have supported in a Defense Support of Civil Authorities capacity. Operating in strict accordance with all federal laws and governmental policies, the MQ-9 aircrews were able to provide real-time video to map fire perimeters and alert first responders of the spread and potential impact of the fires, proximity to infrastructure or buildings, and containment.
Virtual training center leverages enhanced warfighter capabilities
Col. Dean Caldwell (center), U.S. Warfare Center Virtual Test and Training Center (VTTC) director, cuts a ribbon during the opening of the VTTC building at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Aug. 17, 2020. The VTTC is a center designed to permit live and virtual environments to train simultaneously, enabling more realistic and effective training while mitigating the constraints of a physical range. “It’s a significant step forward to enable testing tactics development and advanced training for the Air Force, joint and coalition partners,” said Peter Zupas, U.S. Air Force Warfare Center operational training and test infrastructure analyst. The first missions to be conducted at the VTTC are scheduled to begin around spring or summer of 2021.
VFA-41 participates in Green Flag 20-9
An FA-18F Super Hornet fighter jet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 41, Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., prepares to land after a Green Flag 20-9 training mission at Nellis, Aug. 18, 2020. The Super Hornet is the U.S. Navy’s primary strike and air superiority aircraft that carries 33 percent more internal fuel, increasing mission range by 41 percent and endurance by 50 percent over earlier Hornets. Green Flag-West is a realistic air-land integration combat exercise in conjunction with the U.S. air forces and the U.S. Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. It is a close air support and joint exercise administered by the U.S. Air Force Air Warfare Center at Nellis.
Air Force Chief of Staff visits Nellis
Gen. David L. Goldfein, Air Force Chief of Staff, visited Nellis to engage with Airmen about how the Air Force Is enhancing lethality and readiness.
15th Air Force reactivated
Fifteenth Air Force activated Aug. 20, integrating wings and direct reporting units from 12th Air Force and Ninth Air Force to form a new numbered air force responsible for generating and presenting Air Combat Command’s conventional forces. Units comprising the newly activated numbered air force include the 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Creech, and the 820th Red Horse Squadron at Nellis.
MQ-9 Reaper takes flight with 8 Hellfire missiles
An MQ-9A Reaper assigned to the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron sits on the ramp at Creech carrying eight Hellfire missiles Sept. 10. This was the first flight test of the MQ-9 carrying eight Hellfire missiles. This new capability is part of the MQ-9 Operational Flight Program 2409, a software upgrade set to field by the end of calendar year 2020. Previous to this software, the Reaper was limited to four AGM-114s across two stations. The new software allows flexibility to load the Hellfire on stations that previously were reserved for 500 lb. class bombs or fuel tanks.
New ACC commander visits Nellis, Creech
Col. Stephen Jones, 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander, gives a canvas tour of the installation to Gen. Mark Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command, and Chief Master Sgt. David Wade, command chief of ACC, from the air traffic control tower at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, Oct. 22. The 432nd Wing kicked off the visit at Creech AFB’s air traffic control tower in order to survey the entire base from the overlook. Kelly, partnered with Chief Master Sgt. David Wade, command chief of Air Combat Command, visited Nellis and Creech the week of Oct. 19.
Nellis celebrates newest U.S. Air Force Weapons School grads
Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander, addresses graduates during the U.S. Air Force Weapons School graduation at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Dec. 10, 2020. Harrigian graduated from the USAFWS in 1995 and today is responsible for the air and missile defense of 29 NATO alliance member nations while commanding U.S. airpower across more than 19 million square miles.
Caroline Creech passes
On Dec. 18, Caroline Creech, widow of Gen. Wilbur Creech, passed away. Wilbur Creech was commander of Tactical Air Command from 1978 to 1984, and Creech Air Force Base is named for him. A devoted wife and supporter of her husband and the Air Force, she dedicated herself to improve the quality of life for spouses at every base they were assigned. Caroline will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery next to her husband.
Creech airman transfers to U.S. Space Force
On Dec. 18, a member of the 432nd Wing, Chief Master Sgt. Michael Dixon, transfer to the U.S. Space Force. Dixon is just one of many Hunters jumping to answer the call of the nation’s newest military branch. Several of Creech Airmen were notified of their soon-to-be transfer to being Guardians. “It’s an honor to be selected among various AFSCs and ranks, and to have the honor to represent the newest branch is a really cool feeling; to be able to help shape the future of what it’s going to look like for the Space Force is an amazing thing,” said Dixon.
24th TASS inactivates, leaving mark on joint integration, close air support training
Two F-16 Fighting Falcons navigated by Airmen assigned to the 24th Tactical Air Support Squadron taxi in after their fini flight prior to the inactivation ceremony of the 24th TASS at Nellis. The 24th Tactical Air Support Squadron was inactivated during a Dec. 23 ceremony. The inactivation is part of an overall Air Force strategy to reactivate the 65th Aggressor Squadron. The Air Force is repurposing the F-16s assigned to the close air support-focused 24th TASS and moving them to an aggressor role as part of the 65th AGRS to enhance air-to-air training and provide adversary aircraft that will better replicate peer adversary military forces.
Nellis leaders serve Christmas dinner
Col. Todd Dyer, 99th Air Base Wing commander, serves turkey to a Nellis family on Dec. 25. Dyer was joined by Chief Master Sgt. Emilio Hernandez, 99th ABW command chief, and his wife Mayte Hernandez, Lt. Col. Steve Fox, 99th Medical Support Squadron commander, Col. Brant Johnson, 99th Medical Group commander, Maj. Gen. Chuck Corcoran, U.S. Air Warfare Center commander, and his wife, Kasey Corcoran, along with many of their family members.