Eastern New Mexico received an early Christmas present on Monday when the Department of Defense published its criteria for closing and realigning military installations in 2005.
The standards suggest Cannon Air Force Base is a strong candidate for surviving the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, and even for expansion.
“If anything, we’re pleasantly surprised,” said Chad Lydick, a Clovis engineer who has long lobbied lawmakers on Cannon’s behalf.
“They mentioned airspace would be a top consideration (along with) the base’s ability to accept future training missions and the impact it has on the local communities … those are three things we have always felt are really in Cannon’s favor and set it apart from other military installations.”
The Pentagon listed eight criteria for use in deciding which of an estimated 100 bases will be targeted for closure. The final list of cuts will be released in the spring of 2005.
Cannon backers have some cause for concerns, though. It is not, for example, considered a base with multiple-force purposes, which is one of the criteria mentioned. Scripps Howard News Service reported Tuesday that the Pentagon is committed to targeting bases that do not include more than one branch of service. While Cannon sometimes participates in training missions with the National Guard and Army units, it is primarily an Air Force installation.
Another strike against Cannon is the government would have few potential costs involved in closing the base, another factor the Defense department will consider.
But all other criteria announced on Monday seem to favor Cannon’s continuation.
Cannon is rich in “availability and condition of land, facilities and associated airspace,” a DOD priority. With plenty of expansion room, Cannon can easily accommodate “future total force requirements” at minimal cost. It also has a solid infrastructure and the region’s environmental impact is minimal by all accounts. Finally, the economic impact on Clovis and Portales and other area towns would be damaging if Cannon is closed, another issue the Pentagon will consider.
Foremost in Cannon’s favor, of course, is the region’s vast airspace and land availability. Lydick said supersonic airspace — in which planes can fly faster than the speed of sound — is rapidly becoming a rarity in the Contintental United States, but such flight paths are well established between Lubbock and Roswell.
“The thing about the land, encroachment is going to play a big factor in the evaluation of military installations,” Lydick said. “By that I mean a number of Air Force bases in the United States used to be out by themselves, but now cities have totally grown in and around them. … Year ago, this community, with the help of the county commission and state Legislature, purchased all of the easements around Cannon and gave them to the Air Force.”
The bombing range near Melrose is another major plus. The range regularly provides training for bombers from Abilene, Texas, and Alamogordo and Albuquerque, Lydick said, in addition to Cannon’s F-16 pilots, who are a mere 25 miles away.
“If you don’t have airspace now, you’re not going to get any more,” Lydick said. “If you don’t have a bombing range, you’re not going to get (one). When (DOD officials) look at where you can train … they have to look at where they can train now.”
All are big pluses in Cannon’s favor. Community developers will not breathe easily until the final closure list is announced in 2005. But this week’s announcement of criteria by which the DOD said it will make its decision is indeed encouraging for eastern New Mexico.