Base closures may be delayed

David Arkin: CNJ correspondent

Cannon Air Force Base and hundreds of other military bases across the country may not face closures until 2007 under legislation that was approved on Thursday.

The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness passed a bill on Thursday in Washington, D.C., that would delay the Base Realignment and Closure Commission from closing bases by two years.

The U.S. Department of Defense is planning to cut as much as 25 percent of the existing base capacity in the next round of cuts, which begins in May 2005.

If the bill is passed by the House, Senate and signed into law by the president, the Department of Defense would conduct a six-month study on global basing needs, basing infrastructure for transformation and surge requirements.

The results of the study would be sent to Congress in 2005 for an 18-month review. Congress would then make recommendations as to the future of BRAC.

There are four military bases in New Mexico — Kirtland, Holloman and Cannon air force bases, and an army installation at White Sands Missile Range.

Randy Harris, a Clovis banker and chairman of the Washington, D.C., committee for the Committee of 50, said he wasn’t concerned in the first place that Cannon would be on the chopping block.

“Clovis has worked with Cannon Air Force Base for over 50 years,” said Harris, speaking from Washington, D.C., on Thursday. “To take care of Cannon we have been working closely with the Pentagon and senators and congressmen on Capital Hill to make sure that Cannon is positioned for the future. What happened on Thursday doesn’t matter, because Cannon is in position to meet the needs today and for 20, 30, 40 and 50 years down the road because of the work that has been done.”

Community leaders in the area were pleased there was a possibility that bases may not be closed next year.

“I think it’s great news,” said Kim Huffman, executive director of the Roosevelt County Chamber of Commerce.

As part of the bill, which was submitted by Rep. Heather Wilson, R-Albuquerque, priorities would be added that were missing from the Department of Defense’s criteria. The House Readiness Subcommittee included the improvements in the fiscal year 2005 Defense Authorization bill, which now moves to the House floor.

“The (present) criteria talks about current operations and training but completely ignores the need to have research, development and testing facilities for the next generation of weapons systems,” said Wilson, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Under Wilson’s bill, the next Base Closure Commission would be required to do the following additional BRAC criteria:

• Recognize research development and testing as part of military value.

• Identify range testing facilities as part of military value .

• Make cost savings calculations for the federal budget, not just the Department of Defense budget.

• Include the surge requirement as enacted by law.

Huffman, who served for 30 years in the military, said keeping Cannon open is crucial to the community.

“Cannon is a well-liked community,” he said. “When I was in the military I had been in places where the local community didn’t like having bases there. That’s not the way it is at Cannon.”

Harris said Cannon has had tremendous community support over the years.

“Cannon has great air space, no environmental problems and is one of the most efficient operating bases in the country,” he said.

Huffman said the likelihood of the base closing hasn’t caused him much concern.

“I wasn’t particularly worried about Cannon’s future in the first place,” he said. “Now that they are going to put that off we can stop worrying about it and get back to business.”