Col. Barry Cornish: The outgoing Nellis commander talks about drone selfies, economic diversification, and more…

(Las Vegas) – Aloha, Barry Cornish: Five Takeaways from outgoing Nellis Air Force Base commander Barry Cornish The commander talks about drone selfies, economic diversification, and caring for our servicemen and servicewomen

One of Southern Nevada’s largest employers is about to lose its leader.

Col. Barry Cornish, the commander of the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis and Creech Air Force Bases, is akin to the “mayor” of an institution with tens of thousands of constituents and a $5 billion annual economic impact.  And he’s going to Hawaii for a new command at the end of this month and will be replaced by Col. Richard Boutwell at a ceremony at 9:30 a.m. on June 27.  During Cornish’s time here, he’s been a valuable asset for our military and has forged strong partnerships with civic and business leaders. He recently sat down with the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance to chat about what he’s learned and how he views the role of the Air Force evolving in the community in the coming years.

The Air Force will be a partner in Southern Nevada’s economic diversification

Cornish said that “there’s this kind of awakening that diversification into other industries is going to be critical for sustained growth.”  Regional industry diversification means that our region needs a workforce with a diverse skillset. To get there, we can train that workforce through our primary and secondary education institutions — a kind of homegrown solution to workforce development — or recruit talent from outside the Las Vegas Valley.  The Air Force does both. It brings Americans from around the country to our region, providing a huge economic impact for our community when servicemen and women live in our cities, buy or rent homes, and spend money in the local economy.  Beyond that boost, the Air Force also produces hundreds of skilled workers.  “I’ve talked to a lot of folks about the workforce that exists here, many of whom transition out of Nellis and Creech into the civilian sector, anywhere from 800 to 1,000 between separations and retirements [per year],” Cornish said. “I think businesses here and the community here should be competing for those folks because they’re a highly skilled, highly trained, very disciplined workforce, and anybody would want them as one of their employees.”

Nevada has a chance to be a pioneer in aerospace with Unmanned Aerial Systems

Cornish said he saw a news story the other day about a “drone selfie” where a drone takes a photo of a person who then posts the photo to social media. It’s those kind of stories that illustrate the explosion of ideas about how to commercially apply this military technology.  “You can already tell today there’s an enormous appetite growing for UAS technologies,” Cornish said.  Air Force pilots already fly Remotely Piloted Aircraft out of Creech Air Force Base, and the Air Force has long preferred Southern Nevada for testing piloted aircraft as well. All this is good news for the emerging new industry.  “For all of the same reasons that we like to fly RPAs or we like to fly period in Nevada because of the climate and everything, it’ll be a great place to explore the new boundaries of aviation in remotely piloted aircraft,” he said.

Civilian and military cooperation is vital for the future of the Las Vegas Valley

In the past, miles of open desert separated Air Force installations and urban developments. Now urban development wraps around the base.  “In the future, there’s going to be more growth because half of the City of North Las Vegas is undeveloped, and developing that is one of the keys to the economic prosperity of the city,” Cornish said. “We recognize that, and I’m actually supportive of that, but it will not be without its challenges because we will inevitably start to see where the mission of Nellis Air Force Base — in terms of what we do here, flying operations and all those things — will begin to have a negative effect on that growing development. Likewise, that development, in turn, will have negative effects on our mission if we are not careful about how we do that compatibly.”  He said he’s focused on trust, communication and education for Las Vegas Valley leaders who may not have known about the role of Nellis or the positive effect the base has for the broader community.  “I want our community leaders, when they make decisions every day about the future, to have in their mind that there’s this incredibly important national asset called Nellis and there’s one up the 95 called Creech, and they’re so important to the future of our country,” he said. “I want the leadership here in the valley to have that understanding, so that as we continue to grow, we’re talking, we’re transparent, we’re building trust in what we’re doing so that we can continue to both do well into the future.”

The Air Force is a big deal for the economy of Southern Nevada, and those Air Force assets are poised for growth

If you include active-duty military, military families, reserves, civilians and contractors, the bases are tied to the employment of 40,500 people in Southern Nevada. To look at that another way, removing the bases would mean we’d lose 40,500 jobs.  “It’s a huge part of Las Vegas,” he said.  In the future, “Nellis and Creech are both going to gain in importance,” Cornish said. “This place is growing in importance at the same rate that the Las Vegas community is continuing to grow and expand as a city.”  He explained that the Air Force is divesting itself of redundant or obsolete physical infrastructure, but the advanced tactics development and training at Nellis and the remotely piloted aircraft programs at Creech are vital infrastructure.  Both programs are also set for growth. Nellis will have 36 F-35 next generation fighters within four or five years and will lead national development of tactics for those planes.

“That’s all additive mission,” he said. “So we’ll be doing more testing, more training at Nellis Air Force Base than we had in the past.”  In addition, the Nevada Test and Training Range will remain vital for U.S. air combat readiness.  “It’s almost 3 million acres of land where we can do our advanced training and tactics development missions that we cannot do anywhere on earth like we can there, so protecting those is hugely important,” Cornish said.

Our Air Force is investing in the development of well-rounded servicemen and servicewomen

One of Cornish’s top goals here has been to improve services and support airmen and their families.  Cornish has directly combated growing and troubling trends in the national Air Force.  “I call them the four ‘S’s’,” he said. “Its sexual assault, substance abuse, suicides, and safety mishaps.”  He has developed programs that help members of our military invest in themselves personally so that they’re less likely to do any of those things.  “We’ve done that through a number of ways, the most visible is the Life of a Warrior program, which we focus on being physically fit, mentally focused, socially adjusted and spiritually connected,” he said. “I’ve gained a lot of gratitude out of seeing that program blossom and I can only hope that it has at least had an impact on at least a couple airmen’s lives.”

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