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April 16, 2014

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The Military:

Nellis in race for best Air Force base

Winner will get $1 million for improvements

Nellis Air Force Base

The Thunderbirds came to Nellis Air Force Base in 1956. The name thunderbird refers to a southwest American Indian tradition of a majestic eagle or hawk that shakes the earth with its thunderous wings and shoots lightning from its eyes. Launch slideshow »

Beyond the Sun

Around the Air Force, Nellis has a bit of a reputation — and it could be officially acknowledged soon.

The base is one of two finalists in the running to be named best installation worldwide in the Air Force.

This kind of award can seem like fluff, but this one comes with a $1 million check for quality-of-life upgrades — and, of course, bragging rights.

Col. Warren Berry, commander of Robins Air Force Base in Georgia and one of the three evaluators for the award, admitted there was a friendly rivalry among base commanders.

So he smiled and shook his head when asked the difference between his base and Col. Dave Belote’s Nellis.

“Here it is,” he answered. “His wing is better than mine.”

In fact, while he toured Nellis, hearing presentations about how things are done, Berry kept a list of what he wants to implement at his own base, and “it’s longer than 10.”

“My staff is probably going to be less than thrilled with me when I go back and ask them why we don’t do it that way,” he added, laughing.

The presentations are given mostly by fairly junior airmen in a pressure-packed event after days of dress rehearsals.

As one of the presenters, Senior Airman Tiffany Thompson put it, “The evaluators are colonels, and we’re up for a million dollars based on what we said.”

In deciding between Hurlburt Field, Fla., and the Nellis/Creech team as top in the Air Force, there are many official categories and criteria by which the evaluators are to judge the base, such as communication across the ranks, energy conservation, base productivity, environmental safety and overall quality of life.

But Berry said “you can boil all those down to two things: innovation and best use of resources.”

Another evaluator, Brig. Gen. Anita Gallentine, a reservist from Florida, said a lot of it is intuition and assessing the level of passion.

“You can see it their eyes,” she said, adding the evaluators can sense as they walk around if the airmen truly love their jobs and take pride in their base.

And so, do Nellis and Creech airmen?

“Oh, absolutely,” she said.

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