Civilians might refer to newly minted veterans as “potential employees.” But Col. Barry R. Cornish of Nellis Air Force Base refines their status by calling them “our region’s hidden tech workforce.”
At a recent meeting of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, Cornish and Alliance CEO Tom R. Skancke spoke about the cutbacks to the nation’s military and the potential gain to Southern Nevada, the gain being a workforce of highly trained former Nellis airmen.
I had a chance to speak with both men at the event before and after their formal presentations. Cornish is commander of the 99th Air Base Wing and base installation commander. He feels that the draw of the Las Vegas area will go a long way in keeping airmen in the area after they are separated from service. But it occurred to me that once discharged, most will want to return to their homes around the country.
“I did think about that,” he said.
He agreed that it is probably correct that many former active-duty military want to go home to their families, “especially those who might be retiring from service after 20 years. They’re anxious to get home and take care of mom and dad. And a lot of times you’re not going to overcome that at all.”
He also pointed out other reasons for leaving the area, including what he calls an “underperforming school system here, so if you’re a younger airman and you’ve got kids in school, you may choose not to stay here. You’re going to go where your kids can get a good education. That’s something we’ve got to work on.”
On the other hand, he feels that those airmen who are not particularly tied to going back home or haven’t decided yet, might consider staying. A big draw would be employment.
“If there were an abundance of high-quality, high-paying jobs, where they see a future for them and their families here, that may entice them to stay. At least for a little bit longer to contribute to the economy before they decide ultimately to go back home.”
Along with the downsizing, many of the military buildings and base housing units at Nellis will be vacated, but Cornish sees that as a positive move.
“Well actually, we’re kind of busting at the seams on the base. So this reduction will actually probably provide a little more square footage for some of our growing missions. The F-35 (aircraft) is an additional mission that is coming in,” along with other military equipment and responsibilities, he said.
Although the military is cutting back, young men and women who dream of a career in the Air Force should not be discouraged from joining. Cornish noted that recruitment will continue.
“If you look at the 25,000 airmen that are leaving the force, if you look at it overall, it amounts to about 3 to 5 percent of the force. That means 95 percent of the airmen are staying, and we still need a consistent regeneration of our force, bringing in young folks and training them.”
Skancke’s organization is the regional economic development authority for all of Southern Nevada.
“Our primary goal and objective is to attract businesses and industries from around the country and around the world to relocate here to help stimulate and sustain our economy in the 21st century.”
Although some have taken to ask if enough is being done to bring companies here from out of state, Skancke pointed out that, “You know, it’s never enough. You can bring businesses, you can move industries, and it’s never enough. But at the end of the day, I think this organization, over the next five to 10 years, you will see a massive shift in what our economy looks like going forward.”
Nellis plays an important role in the local economy, and I asked if the military cutbacks will hurt the region.
“Absolutely,” Skancke said. “Nellis injects about $5.4 or $5.6 billion into our economy, and the sequestration and the downsizing of the military as a whole” will have a negative effect. But he pointed out that the jobs at Nellis involve highly technical skills.
“Our military is a highly technically trained military. These are not uneducated or nontechnical jobs. I don’t care which branch of the military you’re in.”
He said that Southern Nevada is “building a tech economy, so we want to inform the community that as we continue to downsize our military, that we need to employ our servicemen and women.”
He added that he feels the community in Southern Nevada “has a moral obligation to help find these servicemen and women a job.”
He also pointed out a situation he said he has been observing, which he said will “sound harsh but real. People that are honorably discharged from the military, it’s almost like being discharged from prison.
“There’s no re-entry program. There’s no training There is no social responsibility from our communities to help bring these people into the workforce and a workplace. I’ve made it an initiative to help these people find jobs. We want to keep these people in Nevada.”
The military travels on its stomach, and while statistics do not report how many cooks, if any, are being separated from service, at least one Nevadan isn’t going anywhere. Army Spc. Symone E. Harden, a 2008 graduate of Desert Pines High School and the daughter of Myrle G. Williams of Las Vegas, was one of 200 chefs from bases around the globe who gathered at Fort Lee, Va., last month for the 39th annual Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event.
Military food service chefs from all branches of the armed forces showcased their best cooking skills. Harden, who is assigned to 549th Military Police Company, Fort Stewart, Ga., participated in the event. She has four years of military service.
“The culinary competition was a great educational experience for me,” Harden said.
The focus of the competition is to provide competitive training opportunities with credentialing initiatives through the American Culinary Federation, and to learn from the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team. The events Harden participated in included armed forces chef of year; culinary team of the year; a nutrition challenge; three-course gourmet meals created from everyday military equipment; a mobile field kitchen challenge; nutrition challenge; and food displays and demonstrations. Safe to say, no one left hungry.
Journalist and author Chuck N. Baker is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a recipient of the Purple Heart. He can be heard each Thursday from 8-9 p.m. on “The Veterans Reporter Radio Show” on KLAV 1230 AM.