Calls for UFO enthusiasts to “Storm Area 51” have apparently fizzled into a much-mailgned dance music festival, but the Air Force’s top leadership isn’t taking any chances.

When the social media-driven internet meme was brought up during a roundtable discussion with reporters Tuesday at the Air Force Association’s Air Space Cyber conference in National Harbor, Maryland, acting Air Force Secretary Matt Donovan and Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein chuckled at first. But Goldfein then said preventing a potential security breach at the Air Force’s highly classified test site in the Nevada desert is important.

“All joking aside, we’re taking it very seriously,” Goldfein said. “Our nation has secrets, and those secrets deserve to be protected."

The brass has taken concrete steps to prepare for potential waves of ET hunters doing an ill-advised “Naruto run” onto government property there. Goldfein has recently talked with Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessey, head of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD, about the threat because NORTHCOM has a hand in the site.

Donovan said he’s been briefed by the Air Force’s A3, or operations division, on what they’re doing to prepare for potential Area 51 runners. And staffers from a few congressional offices have even reached out to the Air Force to find out how service leaders are planning to handle it, he said.

The Air Force is coordinating with other agencies and local law enforcement, he said. It also sent additional security personnel and barricades.

“I think they have a really good plan,” Donovan said. “I understand the organizer came up and said, ‘Ah, it’s canceled,’ or whatever, but there’s still a lot of media attention out in Las Vegas. So they expect that some folks are going to show up there.”

Donovan noted that storming Area 51 isn’t the most practical idea. Runners would have to walk through tens of miles of Southern Nevada desert in the September heat, he said.

But Goldfein, wearing a wry smile, played coy when asked directly whether extraterrestrials are among those national secrets at Area 51 that deserve protection. Instead, he referenced Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson’s keynote address to open the convention Monday.

Branson told a story about flying a UFO — with a short employee aboard pretending to be an alien — over London as part of an April Fool’s Day prank. Branson said his prank even drew a response from UK police officers and soldiers, one of whom was quite startled when the employee exited the landed UFO in a dramatic cloud of dry ice.

“After Richard Branson’s presentation, I’m actually looking for a very small airman I can put in the ET uniform,” was all Goldfein said.

But nowhere in Goldfein’s statement was an out-and-out denial that the Air Force has aliens.

And you know what that means: The truth is still out there.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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