List of closures only first step in long process

By Tom Udall: Guest Columnist

Friday the 13th was a day that unfortunately lived up to its ominous reputation when the Department of Defense released its Base Realignment and Closure recommendations. In what I and the entire New Mexico congressional delegation believe is an enormous mistake, the Secretary of Defense included Cannon Air Force Base on its list of bases recommended for closure.

The BRAC process was established over a decade ago following the collapse of the Soviet Union as a means to realign or close military installations that are believed to be no longer needed for our nation’s defense. There have been BRAC rounds in 1988, 1991, 1993, and 1995. This year’s BRAC round, however, was one of the largest, with 33 major bases recommended for closure, including Cannon.

This is just the beginning of our fight to save Cannon. The list of recommendations submitted by the DoD to the BRAC Commission is only the first stage of a lengthy process.

The next step is the Commission must submit its list of recommendations to President Bush by Sept. 8. The president will then either approve or disapprove the recommendations made by the BRAC Commission and submit to Congress.

Congress will then have an up-or-down vote on the recommendations.

Until Sept. 8, however, I will work with the entire congressional delegation, Gov. Bill Richardson and the Clovis community to fight to get Cannon off the list of recommended closures.

A central argument we will make to the commissioners is the issue of “range encroachment.” It is the process whereby a military base is progressively hemmed in by urban growth, competition for air space, protection of an endangered species, and other factors. Such a development can detract from a base’s desirability, and thus make it a target for future closure and realignment in the BRAC round. Cannon has two long runways, excellent airspace, and bombing ranges with no encroachment issues.

Additionally, the Department of Defense did not take into account the New Mexico Training Range Initiative as part of its analysis of Cannon’s military value. Although the Initiative has yet to be fully approved, it is expected to be by October of this year.

The Training Range Initiative will allow training at supersonic speeds, only further adding to the exceptional capabilities offered by Cannon Air Force Base. It is further evidence of the DoD’s shortsightedness that it failed to take into account this valuable initiative.

Cannon Air Force Base is a critical component of our nation’s defense. It is also equally, if not more, important to the Clovis community.

There are several months to fight the DoD’s recommendation and I plan to do so vigilantly side-by-side with you, the other members of the congressional delegation, and Gov. Richardson to show the BRAC commissioners just how valuable Cannon and the Clovis community is to our nation.

Cannon Air Force Base is located in Tom Udall’s third congressional district. The New Mexico Democrat has represented the base since 1999. Contact him through his Web site at: http://tomudall.house.gov