As Jim arrived at Nellis to begin his combat training, his confidence level was soaring owing to the fact that he had graduated from single-engine pilot school near the top of his class. But he knew that flying at Nellis was going to be a unique experience. From all the stories Jim had heard about Nellis back at Webb, he hoped he would score high enough while staying alive at the same time. There was even an adage being passed around the various single-engine pilot schools that basically said, “If you can survive Nellis, then Korea should be no problem.” This saying became clear for one of Jim's former 52-F classmates who had been assigned to Nellis.
When this pilot had first arrived and was checking into his room at the Bachelor Officers Quarters, he saw something going on in the room next door, a scene that he soon learned occurred frequently at Nellis. He noticed that someone was gathering the personal effects of the occupant in the room, and was told that four guys had been killed the week before because of target fixation, midair collisions, and other mishaps.
The flying that took place while these guys were cadets had been mild compared to Nellis. Accidents had occurred at some of the different training bases, including a few fatal ones, such as what happened to Charles Barfield at Webb. But Nellis was the big time and it didn't take long before they found this out directly.
During their initial briefing in the base auditorium, the new pilots arriving at Nellis were welcomed by Col. Clay Tice, Jr., the commanding officer of the 3595th Flying Training Group. He had been a former P-38 fighter pilot who led the 49th Fighter Group during the latter part of World War II. Colonel Tice was well known for his straightforward approach and overly aggressive leadership style that personified the training program at Nellis.
At the briefing, Colonel Tice gave his classic speech. He said, "Welcome to Nellis Air Force Base men, the finest fighter weapons school in the world. We're going to do one of three things to you here—wash you out, kill you, or make you one of the best fighter pilots in the world. The choice is yours."
These guys quickly learned that training at Nellis was going to be hard-hitting, relentless, and with no room for errors. To prove this point, the motto of the 3595th Flying Training Group was "Every man a tiger," and Colonel Tice even had his personal F-86 adorned with this animal, and the motto written underneath. The gun panel on the left side of the fuselage had multiple rows of painted red stars with the words “Over 500 MiGs destroyed by Nellis-trained pilots” emblazoned diagonally across the rows.
The idea was to form an aggressive attitude among the new pilots, not letting them get slack in performing the proper maneuvers and tactics. After all, this wasn't single-engine pilot school anymore; it was combat training. Every battle condition was presented on the desert ranges to give these guys a realistic scenario of what they might experience when they got to Korea. Many times, the new pilots would even engage in "rat races" where they tried to outmaneuver each other as in a dogfight. There were many occasions, especially while flying F-80s out to the bombing range, when "aggressor" pilots flying F-86 Sabres would swoop down from above creating a swirl of activity. A lot of times when this happened, too much fuel was burned up while getting away, and the pilots in the F-80s had to return to base without releasing a single practice bomb on the range.
But again, this was Nellis. The instructors were some of the best in the Air Force. Most of them had combat experience in Korea, with a few having fought also during World War II. Their message to the students was simple. They said, “Anytime you are in the air at Nellis, you are fair game for anyone.” And they backed this up with liberal "bounces" anywhere and anytime. Even while on a bombing or strafing mission, a pilot had to be constantly looking over his shoulder. The instructors who flew these aggressor aircraft kept their gun cameras on at all times, and if any one of them came back with a pilot’s tail number on his gun camera film, then he was in big trouble.
Some of the instructors were aces, having been assigned to Nellis to sharpen the skills of these untrained fighter pilots. A couple notable ones were Maj. Frederick C. "Boots" Blesse with 10 MiGs to his credit, and Capt. Iven C. Kincheloe, Jr. with five. Blesse arrived at Nellis in December, two months after Jim began his training. He started out as an instructor, but later moved up to be one of the squadron commanders. Captain Kinchloe arrived in early 1953, during the second phase of training when the guys were flying F-86s in multiple training exercises. These young pilots looked up to all these combat veterans with total admiration, absorbing every word that was spoken, and trying to emulate their talent out on the range.