For Col. Eric Wade, home means Nevada.
However, in 1996, Wade, a Reno High and University of Nevada, Reno graduate, left the sagebrush and the pinyon pine after the 152nd Reconnaissance Group’s conversion from RF-4C jets to C-130 aircraft.
Following a decade-long active duty tour overseas, though, he returned, and earlier this month became the 22nd commander of the 152nd Airlift Wing, Reno’s hometown Air National Guard unit.
Several people, from his mother to longtime friends, mentioned his unique circuitous route taken in his career, capped with his return to Nevada and command of the unit he first joined 24 years ago.
Deep Nevada roots
Wade is a third-generation Nevadan, born in 1968, about three decades after Nevada legalized wide-open gambling in 1931.
His parents met in Reno in the early 1960s, both employees of Bill Harrah, the nation’s largest gambling operator at the time, owner of the Harrah’s Club in Reno and Harrah’s Tahoe Club.
In 1962, Wade’s mother, Cindy, started work as the secretary in the research department for Harrah’s famed automobile collection. Six months later, Wade’s father, Clyde, began work as a mechanic for Harrah. He eventually ran the collection.
“Bill (Harrah) sent my dad all over the world,” Wade said. “He’d say, ‘Hey, there’s a 500K Mercedes in London. Go over there and bid on this thing in auction. Your budget is $2.2 million and bring it back.’ And my dad would go.”
Cindy said she also traveled with Harrah on international business trips and got to know the Reno icon on a personal level.
“Physically, he was a tall man and he had a very reserved demeanor,” Cindy said of Harrah. “People were so nervous they’d shake before they would meet with him. I’m not kidding. They were afraid… One thing I liked, I knew he wanted happy employees. I always made sure to meet him with a smile. That was important to him. I admired that.”
Both Clyde and Cindy worked there until Harrah died in 1978. Holiday Inn purchased the properties and overhauled business operations in 1980. After Harrah died, Cindy worked for the state and Clyde opened an automobile restoration shop.
Wade was the youngest of their three children, who Cindy described as a “very sturdy and self-assured little boy with a mischievous sense of humor.” After graduating from Reno High in 1986, Wade worked at his father’s auto shop and studied business at UNR.
“I went to college during the day and worked on old cars at night,” Wade said. “My brother rubbed and painted the cars and I got them show-ready. It put me through college.”
Then Wade’s life seemingly changed in an instant.
“I remember going down the highway one day, driving down I-80 going west, and an F-4 goes flying right over our head,” Wade said of the aircraft the 152nd Reconnaissance Group flew from 1975-1995. “I said, ‘Man, I’d love to fly that someday.’ My best friend Chris Seher was with me and he said, ‘Well, I’m going to.’ I said (no way), man.’ He said, ‘Yeah, my dad flies those things.’ That’s what got me interested. He took me out here and introduced me to all the guys in maintenance. Every chance that I wasn’t polishing a car, going to school or doing homework, I was out here.”
Wade commissioned in 1993 and worked in the cockpit as an F-4 weapons system officer, also known as a wizzo, from 1994-1996 in Reno.
But when the U.S. military decommissioned the F-4 in the mid-1990s, the unit in Reno, nicknamed the High Rollers for success in aerial reconnaissance competitions, was left without a mission.
Many at the base wanted F-16s fighter jets, but the unit converted to C-130 cargo aircraft, which disheartened several in the unit. Following the conversion, Wade qualified for F-15E school.
While at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas qualifying on the C-130, he told Col. Scott Seher, the father of his best friend, Chris Seher, and the commander of the Nevada Air National Guard at the time that he knew he would be accepted into F-15 school.
“I put my orders on his desk and said, ‘I’m packing my bags and I’m out of here tomorrow,’” Wade said. “(Seher) said, ‘These orders aren’t until July. We are already paying for your school, so you are going to finish C-130 school. We think it will be good for you. You will have a good idea if you want to come back.’ I said, ‘Do you have any idea how far behind I am?’ ‘Cause I sort of ignored my school work given I knew I was going to leave. He basically told me, ‘Well you better get studying then.’”
Seher, who knew Wade as a high school student through his son, helped get him into the Air Guard.
“A lot of people at that time were making a lot of career choices and my advice to all of them was to do whatever you want to do, but whatever you do, do it well and you’ll always have a position back here for you in Reno when you get done flying F-16s or F-15s or A-10s or whatever other people were doing at the time we were transitioning,” Seher said.
Wade finished C-130 school and left for active duty, which included tours in Germany, England and North Carolina.
He originally served as an air liaison officer to the U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division in Wurzburg, Germany, which included three months in Tuzla, Bosnia during the nation’s civil war. In 1998 he completed F-15E Strike Eagle training and was assigned to the 492nd Fighter Squadron, Royal Air Force Lakenheath in England.
While overseas, he met his wife, Mia, when he took leave in Amsterdam.
“When we met, he told me he was a garbage man and backed it up with this whole story that came with it,” Mia Wade said with a laugh. “He had the whole story down. And the other man he was with told me he was a fighter pilot. Eric’s story was more believable.”
The two went out for dinner the next day and maintained a long distance relationship until Wade was re-assigned in England. She moved in with him and they eventually married in the Netherlands.
In 2004, they moved to the U.S. when Wade became a flight training instructor assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C.
“North Carolina was nice, but it was no Nevada,” Wade said. “They don’t have 300 sunny days each year. There’s mosquitoes. It’s humid. It just wasn’t what I was used to.”
Home Means Nevada
In 2005, the chief of international affairs position at the Nevada National Guard opened and Wade applied.
He got the job.
“I remember driving back, we took the southern route through Phoenix and up through Vegas,” Wade said. “I remember coming through Carson Valley and seeing Reno. I felt home again. The reception was great. I couldn’t wait. The 10-year tour was done. Thought it was going to be only three, but it ended up being 10.”
After serving six years as the international affairs chief, Wade served two years as the chief of current operations in the 152nd Operations Squadron. He served three years as the 152nd Intelligence Squadron’s commander and a brief stint as commander of the 152nd Mission Support Group. He became commander of the 152nd Airlift Wing on April 1 in a ceremony at the base fuel cell hangar.
During Wade’s command ceremony, he mentioned several of his friends, a tight-knit group he’s kept close ties with for about three decades.
“We are all important to each other,” said retired Nevada Air Guard Lt. Col. Allan Renwick, who attended college and officer school with Wade. “When he joined the Guard, he (Wade) didn’t have that enlisted background like a lot of us did. (Chris) Seher got him in, and we mentored him through that.
“His first training exposure was in officer school. We knew the progression, how they knock you down to zero and how you feel like you’re walking on water by the end of it. We always encouraged him to keep moving forward in his career. He was the one that made it out of all of us.”
While Renwick and other friends attended the ceremony, one did not. Chris Seher, Wade’s best friend who first introduced him to the Nevada Air National Guard, died in 2015. Wade served as Seher’s best man in his wedding, and Seher did the same for Wade’s wedding.
Following the death, Wade visited Seher’s family and helped organize a ceremony in his name at the base.
“I’ve never seen him out for himself,” said Scott Seher, Chris Seher’s father who convinced Wade to stay in C-130 school because he might want to return to the unit someday. “It’s always for his buddies, for his friends and for the unit. He’s very humble. He’s been a hard worker, very smart. We have total confidence in his ability and very proud of his accomplishment.”
For Wade, one of the last remaining F-4 officers in the Nevada Air National Guard, commanding the 152nd Airlift Wing is more than his next command.
It is home.
Emerson Marcus is a technical sergeant with the Nevada National Guard.