By Marlena Hartz
Albuquerque officials had to scurry 10 years ago when Kirtland Air Force Base landed on the Department of Defense’s list of bases proposed for realignment.
A committee was quickly formed in response to the threat of realignment, with six businessmen calling themselves the Kirtland Retention Task Force at its core.
Located on the southern edge of Albuquerque, Kirtland is one of the largest installations in the Air Force. But that didn’t stop the base from being targeted by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
“That realignment would have been the largest loss of jobs in any Air Force installation in the 1995 BRAC,” said Col. Charles Thomas, a member of the Kirtland Partnership Committee and former commander of Kirtland. “We would have lost 7,000 jobs, which is about a quarter of the work force in the area.”
By proving the Department of Defense had greatly underestimated the cost of realigning the base, the Kirtland committee was able to have the base removed from the BRAC list.
Eastern New Mexico is now in a similar situation.
Cannon Air Force Base is on the 2005 BRAC list, recommended for closure by DoD.
The economy of Curry and Roosevelt counties is deeply dependent on Cannon — there are more than 4,000 active-duty members and civilians at the base, which contributes an estimated $200 million to the area economy annually.
Although Clovis’ Committee of Fifty reaches back through generations, and the Kirtland Partnership Committee only to 1995, the men who spared Kirtland are lending wisdom to the eastern New Mexico supporters who back Cannon.
The Kirtland Partnership Committee plans to meet with Committee of Fifty members soon.
“We will show them how we put our report together, let them take a look at our notebook and how we presented our arguments,” Kirtland Partnership member Sherman McCorkle said.
“I think that the argument having to do with supersonic range areas that were essentially developed after the December data call (for BRAC) creates a true fighting opportunity for the folks over there,” McCorkle said.
According to area and state officials, a proposal for significantly expanding the airspace at Cannon was not among the data considered by DoD.
McCorkle learned a lot about arguments in 1995. Without the aid of a law firm like Piper Rudnick, employed to make a case for Cannon’s removal from the BRAC list, McCorkle and five others on the Kirtland Retention Task Force convinced federal officials that Kirtland never belonged there in the first place.
“In our case, the cause for realignment was not military value (as it is in Cannon’s),” McCorkle said, “it was cost of operation. We were able to demonstrate to the Secretary of Defense that the cost numbers were in error.”
DoD’s 1995 error was a matter of millions of dollars.
Thomas said DoD officials estimated it would cost roughly $270 million to realign the base. The Kirtland Partnership Committee, Thomas said, proved that the correct cost of realignment neared $525 million.
Shortly after the partnership published its own cost reports, the Secretary of Defense wrote a letter to the BRAC Commission requesting the removal of Kirtland from the list, Thomas said.
Cannon and its 80 F-16s landed on this year’s proposed closure list because it lacked the “military value” of similar bases, according to Air Force officials.
Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., is critical of the existence of BRAC. Although she questions the quality of Department of Defense data in regard to Cannon, her reasons for opposing BRAC extend beyond just that.
“I am opposed to BRAC because I don’t think it’s necessary,” Wilson said. “I am opposed to BRAC because it is the wrong thing to do at the wrong time in the wrong way. Once you shutter a base, you can never get it back.”