The 21-square-mile Nellis Air Force Base, which bills itself to newly arriving personnel as “the most exclusive and guarded community in Las Vegas,” is many things: It’s an operational hub that drives air-combat tactics development and controls joint operations with all branches of the Defense Department; it’s home to forces from allied nations that come to work on Nellis’ additional 5,000 square miles of range space; and it’s a community, in the truest sense of the word.
The mayor and CEO of the complex—which could swallow 37 Las Vegases—is Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Lofgren, the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center commander. An Air Force Academy alum who has accumulated more than 3,000 flying hours (primarily in F-16s), Lofgren has commanded units in the Pacific and Southwest Asia. Big, blond and with a ready smile, Lofgren is a keenly observant and square-jawed epitome of a veteran fighter pilot while at the same time possessing the kind of mild awkwardness you’d expect from a Scandinavian farmer forced to talk about himself.
This month marks your first anniversary as Warfare Center commander. Are you enjoying the gig?
This is an incredible job where we can impact so much of the Air Force, our joint partners and our coalition partners with what we do here. Whether it’s in the testing arena in tactics development or the training programs we have, we produce the highest-caliber folks that our Air Force can produce. Everybody likes to [make] an impact, likes to feel they got something accomplished each and every day when they go home, and this is one of those jobs where you really feel that you can do that.
What special issues do you face with the heart of Las Vegas just minutes from the gates?
Nellis does tend to have a little bit higher rate of incidents than some other [bases] around the country. That’s to be expected, especially when you bring young folks here who maybe have never experienced [Las Vegas]. Our leaders work to instill our core values, to remind them that a military member is never off-duty. There is great fun to be had Downtown, but there are also some things that can happen that aren’t going to be so fun, and we need to steer them in the right direction. There are other bases that just don’t have those temptations that we have here, so it takes a lot of hands-on leadership.
How is Nellis’ overall relationship with the Southern Nevada community?
As strong as I’ve seen it anywhere I’ve ever been, and I’ve been in many places around the United States. We continue to work with community leaders to make sure we have what we call “compatible growth,” which keeps our mission going yet still allows them to achieve objectives as business leaders. We don’t need to say “no”; we need to come up with an acceptable “yes” for both of us and create a win-win scenario, and that’s the approach we’ve been taking.
It is always nice to have a community that is very supportive and understanding of what we are trying to get accomplished here … and we do appreciate everything the community does to support our airmen.
Given the current fiscal situation in Washington, D.C., what plans are in place to maintain the U.S. Air Force’s fighting edge?
It does actually give us a little bit of a break to go back and make sure we have the right tactics and techniques we are going to employ and [that we] are teaching correctly. We are also looking at our weapons systems’ vulnerabilities to cyber attack, plus something called “live virtual constructive”—think of it as simulators—so we can strike a balance between live-fly operations and simulator operations to get the maximum product for the available dollars. It’s a little tough, because we aren’t doing what we normally do around here, but at the same time we still have valuable work to do.
What’s the latest on the base’s building boom?
We have a lot of construction going on with our F-35 facilities and some new dormitories. I think the number is up around $400 million in the last couple of years just for construction [costs] on base. We estimate we put about $5 billion into the Las Vegas economy each year. That’s not a trivial number.
How have your previous command experiences informed your command here?
It’s made me realize that no one specific capability in our arsenal can do it all. Integration is the hard part: [It’s about] improving and refining and maintaining those capabilities and the readiness to do what our nation expects us to do, which is to win.
What was your most harrowing flying experience?
Immediately after Desert Storm, I was flying F-16s out of Saudi Arabia [in 1991]. We started having [Iraqi] surface-to-air missiles shooting at us, so they pulled everybody back. But they had some folks who were in harm’s way, and we had to turn back to support them. We were able to suppress the enemy fire and get the guys out. But then as we turned around [to head home], we were so low on gas we had to call the tankers across the line [into enemy airspace]. All this was done at night. I had a very young wingman at the time; I can very distinctly remember landing and talking to him afterward, and his eyes were as big as saucers.