John “JV” Venable, a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force who served in three combat operations, is a senior research fellow for defense policy at The Heritage Foundation.
The focus of Venable’s research, writing, and public engagement is on plans, programs, and operational capabilities of the Department of Defense, in particular air and space matters.
Immediately before joining Heritage in February 2016, Venable was vice president of IGRIS LLC, a research and development company near Memphis, Tenn., specializing in explosives detection.
He is the author of a book on leading high performance teams, “Breaking the Trust Barrier” (Berrett-Koehler, 2016) and is a sought-after speaker to businesses, associations, universities, and high schools on building and leading high performance teams, ethical leadership, and “the power of big dreams.”
During his career in the Air Force, Venable served at 16 locations around the world as a forward air controller, fighter pilot, staff officer, and commander.
He is the former commander of the celebrated Thunderbirds.
He has flown the F-16 fighter jet throughout the United States, Europe, the Pacific, and the Middle East. As the F-16 wing weapons officer for the Air-Land Composite Wing experiment at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, he was nominated for the Claire Chennault Award for his work developing “killer scout” tactics, techniques, and procedures.
Venable served as staff officer for nuclear policy for Headquarters Air Northwest at Royal Air Force High Wycombe, United Kingdom, from 1996 to 1998. He was heavily involved with the Partnership for Peace program that led to the expansion of NATO.
He then was selected to serve as operations officer of the Air Warrior Program at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, providing close air support for the Army’s signature force-on-force exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California.
Venable was selected in 1999 to command the Air Force’s Aerial Demonstration Squadron (the Thunderbirds), and was on point for every practice, deployment, and air show for the 2000 and 2001 seasons.
Following Air War College in 2002 and 2003, he served on the staff addressing issues that were before the Air Force’s Joint Requirements Oversight Committee.
In 2004, Venable took command of the 379th Air Expeditionary Group, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, the largest combat operation in the Air Force at the time. He led 16 squadrons and 1,100 personnel, flying seven types of aircraft in support of ground and air operations during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Over the course of a year, Venable’s team flew 27,000 sorties, delivering 200,000 passengers, 40,000 tons of cargo, 38 million gallons of fuel to 9,000 airborne receiver aircraft, and dropping bombs on 311 targets —all “without gap and without loss,” as the Air Force says.
In his last assignment on active duty from 2005 to 2007, Venable served as a principal adviser and briefer to the Air Force’s chief of staff and director of operations in their roles on the president’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. He retired in June 2007 as a command pilot with more than 4,400 total hours of flying time and more than 300 hours of combat time over Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Venable was born in Birmingham, Ala., and grew up in Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
He received a bachelor’s degree in business management in 1981 from Ohio University, where he also was a distinguished graduate of Air Force ROTC. He holds master’s degrees in aeronautical sciences from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and in strategic studies from the Air War College.
Venable also holds diplomas or certificates from Georgetown University, the Air Force Fighter Weapons School, Air Command and Staff College, Joint Forces Staff College, and the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany.
He currently resides with his wife Lil and their two sons, Harrison and Walker, in Northern Virginia.