From Vance student to leader of Alaskan Air Command

  • Published
  • By Phill Stuart
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- In difficult times such as these, taking a look back at the outstanding Air Force leaders who earned their wings at Vance Air Force Base can provide not only a sense of stability, but also hope. One such leader is Lt. Gen. David L. Nichols.

Born in 1934 in Iola, Kansas, Nichols was a decorated pilot during the Vietnam War and would later be an early leader and innovator in the Air Force’s ground-based missile programs.

Nichols began his Air Force career in August 1955 as a navigator with the 30th Air Transport Squadron at McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey. He would remain there until he began his pilot training.

Nichols received his pilot training at Vance Air Force Base. After earning his wings in April 1960, he remained at Vance as a First Assignment Instructor Pilot. While he was training pilots, Nichols earned his bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma State University.

In January 1967, Nichols answered the call of duty to serve his country during war time and was assigned to the 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. He completed 100 combat missions over North Vietnam.

After serving in Vietnam, Nichols returned to training new pilots, this time as an F-105 instructor pilot as part of 23rd Tactical Fighter Wing at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, where he also served as the wing chief of safety.

Nichols then returned to the Far East where he served first as the chief of safety for the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing and later the commander of the 12th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. He returned to the United States to attend Air War College, graduating in May 1973.

Nichols made his first stop at the Pentagon where he was the Air Force military assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for atomic energy. He then served as the chief of staff for Headquarters 9th Air Force, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, and as commander of the 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, before returning to the Pentagon as the deputy director for operations and training, Headquarters U.S. Air Force.

In March 1980, Nichols became deputy director for plans and policy. He also served as the first ever director of the Air Force’s ground-launched cruise missile planning group. He continued working on the Air Force’s cruise missile program.

As the deputy chief of staff and later chief of staff of Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Ramstein Air Base, West Germany, where he established and directed the ground-launched cruise missile planning group in Europe and managed the building of six bases in five NATO countries.

He then returned to Air Force Headquarters where he served as deputy chief of staff for plans and operations and Air Force operations deputy to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In September 1985, Nichols assumed command of the Alaskan Air Command and the Alaskan North American Aerospace Defense Command Region at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, where he also commanded Joint Task Force Alaska.

On July 1, 1988, Nichols retired from the Air Force with more than 8,800 flying hours and his decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, and the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters.

Nichols died April 5, 1997.