Soon-to-be former Nellis commander reflects on time at base - 8 News NOW

Soon-to-be former Nellis commander reflects on time at base

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LAS VEGAS -- The commander of Nellis Air Force Base faced challenges ranging from budget cuts to military actions during his time in southern Nevada.

Colonel Barry Cornish will soon be moving to a new assignment in the pacific. Col. Cornish has had a history with Nellis Air Force Base as a student, a pilot, and in June 2012 he became the commander.

The first time Cornish come to Nellis, he was sent to pick up a plane and fly it back to his base in Alaska. He didn't know at the time he would one day become its commander.

“We landed and I instantly got kind of mesmerized by this place,” Cornish said.

Nellis is the home of Red Flag Exercise and the Warfare Center. It is where new tactics are drawn up and where advanced training is given.

Pilots prepare for war by flying in ways that aren't allowed at most other bases in the country.

“I know that Las Vegas is sometimes known as the Disneyland for adults, but Nellis is really Disneyland for airmen,” Cornish said.

Cornish put his piloting skills to the test enforcing no-fly zones after the Gulf War.

As he rose in rank, U.S. conflicts became more common.

“Desert Storm, then a small break, then right into Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and Libya, and conflict has been never ending and that has a cost to it,” Col. Cornish said.

The human cost has been in lives lost, both in the theater of war and in the rising problem of drug abuse and suicide in the military.

“The folks that go into theater over and over again, it is something you never get used to,” the commander said.

Cornish believes the cost of severe budget cuts known as sequestration still remain to be seen. The second session of the weapons school was grounded last year because of the cuts.

Each session normally advances 80 officers.

“To have skipped one generation of that, it will manifest over time in reduced capabilities and reduced readiness,” Cornish said.

The greatly reduced defense budget has also meant that more than 1,000 airmen will depart Nellis Air Force Base earlier than expected this year.

Cornish says a smaller force makes Nellis' mission of training the best airmen even more critical.

“What Nellis does in terms of tactics development, advance training, testing and all of that, is designed to build the very best possible air force from what we're given,” Cornish said.

Colonel Cornish is leaving for a new assignment, but says he will take what he learned at Nellis with him.

“I will leave here knowing Nellis is where airmen get better, and I will leave a better airman than when I came here,” the commander said.

Cornish will be leaving southern Nevada for Honolulu, Hawaii.

He will be an executive officer serving directly under a four-star general in the Pacific Air Force Command.

Colonel Rick Boutwell will be taking his place at Nellis Air Force Base. A change of command ceremony is set for next Friday.

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