By Darrell Todd Maurina
Following the end of the Cold War, the Department of Defense has repeatedly cut the number of military personnel and military bases. Between 1988 and 1995, 97 major military bases were selected for closure in four rounds of cutbacks known as Base Realignment and Closure or “BRAC.”
In 2005, a special nine-member commission will review all military bases to determine their military value to national security; at least seven of the nine members have to approve closing any base.
Both of New Mexico’s U.S. Senators, Republican Pete Domenici and Democrat Jeff Bingaman have opposed the BRAC process. They said they regretted that a June 4 Senate amendment to cancel the process in 2005 failed on a 53-42 vote.
Barring unexpected developments, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will develop criteria for closing bases by the end of this year and make a list of recommendations to the commission by May 16.
The commission will then produce a list of recommended closures and realignments and submit them to the president by Sept. 8, 2005. The list cannot be amended and must be approved or rejected in its entirety by the president and Congress.
What are the odds Cannon Air Force Base could end up on the closure list? Depends on who’s asked.
Domenici said that as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he successfully worked to get funding totaling $9 million for projects at Cannon Air Force Base into the 2004 budget.
“I remain skeptical about the need for a new round of base closures,” Domenici said. “That’s why I will continue to assure the people associated with Cannon Air Force Base that I am optimistic about the future of the base. I continue to work in Congress, and with the local leaders there, to do everything to make sure Cannon remains a healthy, vital U.S. military installation well into the future.”
Mike McDaniel, executive committee chairman of the Clovis Committee of 50, said losing Cannon would be a major blow to the region.
“It would be hard for me to think of Clovis without (Cannon), my imagination isn’t quite that good,” McDaniel said. “It would be a pretty big economic impact of a negative sort. Another impact would be the knowledge, skills, personalities. People from all over the world come here and they bring their perspectives.”
Cannon personnel are not allowed to lobby Congress on behalf of their base, so community leaders have to assume that role. That puts Cannon at a disadvantage compared to some larger cities with major budgets.
“We don’t generate enough money to hire an inside-the-beltway Washington D.C. lobbyist,” McDaniel said. “Four or five of us try to meet with Senators, Representatives, secretaries of departments in the military, and influential people in the Pentagon and Air Force.”
“We try to find out what would make those people happy and sometimes there are things we can do and things we cannot,” McDaniel said.
Some of what Clovis cannot do on a local level is being done on a state level by the newly-formed New Mexico Military Base Planning Commission. Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Hanson Scott, director of the commission, said he doesn’t think Cannon’s small size will necessarily be a detriment.
“We need to be concerned about military utility and military value,” Scott said. “We’ll see what happens as the Department of Defense establishes criteria. All of New Mexico’s bases are on the table and until we see the criteria we don’t know what will happen.”
Randy Harris, also a Committee of 50 member and one of two Clovis members of the state planning commission, said Clovis’ small size is an advantage because it gives Cannon large amounts of available land and unrestricted airspace. That isn’t the case for some larger bases where cities have pushed up to the edge of the base, leading to safety concerns and resident complaints about military activities.
“Cannon is what I consider one of the jewels in the Air Force that provides the opportunity to grow and expand,” Harris said, noting its proximity to the Melrose bombing range and reserved military airspace stretching north to Albuquerque and east into Texas.
“Cannon Air Force Base has a tremendous amount of airspace available to it,” Harris said. “Not only does it support existing missions, it is being upgraded all the time to support new missions and new capabilities.”
While local officials said they are optimistic about Cannon’s future, a widely-distributed article on BRAC in an online Web magazine dedicated to weapons development has received some attention in the New Mexico news media for its description of Cannon as “a small base whose fighter wing can move to a larger base, or may be deactivated.”
“Military bases have tremendous costs for support facilities. When you have a small base it becomes very expensive,” said Carlton Meyer, a former Marine captain and editor of www.g2mil.com. “The Air Force has been pretty straightforward. They came out with their megabase plan in 1998, they said they could cut their operational costs in half.”
Meyer said Cannon has a major asset in available airspace and low off-base housing costs, but cautioned that its isolation leads to complaints.
“There is also quality of life and because of its very remote location it gets very low marks from most airmen,” Meyer said. “I remember about four or five people contacting me and saying, ‘I had heard about how bad it was here and now I’m here and I know.’ ”
Harris said he hopes the support for the military in the Clovis area offsets its isolation.
“This state has been a good advocate for the military and not a fair-weather friend at all,” said Harris. “This state is very proud and wants to take care of its men and women and its military installations. Unlike a lot of other sites, we’ve been taking care of our bases for a very long time.”