By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
The future of Cannon Air Force Base is being watched closely even beyond eastern New Mexico and West Texas.
Six Air Force bases across the United States stand to inherit F-16 fighter jets if Cannon is closed, including Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah.
“I can’t say there is a direct correlation between what happens at Cannon and what happens at Hill, but we are taking a cautious look at what’s going on, as all communities with bases are,” said Rick Mayfield, executive director of Utah Defense Alliance, a group similar to Clovis’ Committee of Fifty, comprised of business owners and citizens who support military operations.
Clovis is home to roughly 80 F-16s, including a squadron from Singapore.
The Air Force recently retired a fleet of older planes at Hill, Mayfield said. They will be replaced with six F-16 Fighting Falcons from Cannon under the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure plan, according to Department of Defense documents.
Mayfield said he doesn’t care where the planes are taken from, he just wants to be sure they are replaced.
Hill employs about 17,000 civilians, according to Vickie McCall, president of the Utah Defense Alliance. The Ogden Air Logistics Center on base repairs of intercontinental ballistic missiles, aircraft, munitions, aircraft software and information processing, according to globalsecurity.org.
The base is also home to 250 aircraft.
The number of civilian jobs is expansive compared to the 384 the Air Force reports would be lost if Cannon closed.
But the bases do have a lot in common, McCall said.
“Both have similar missions. They both have fighter wings, a depot, a reserve wing, and a training range,” McCall said, comparing Cannon to Hill, which is situated in northern Utah.
“Everything is so intertwined in this BRAC process,” McCall said. “One decision impacts many, many other bases.
Unfortunately the rationale in this report has consequences.
If Cannon stays open, it affects a number of bases. We would then lose our reserve mission. That’s not going to close our doors, but it is a negative consequence for us.”
A regional hearing and site visit for Cannon is scheduled for June 23-24. During the visit, law firm DLA Piper, state officials and the Committee of Fifty will argue as to why Cannon should be spared from the list.
The Utah Defense Alliance already had a meeting with the BRAC Commission on June 6. Mayfield said, during the visit, three BRAC commissioners reiterated Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s statement that changing any recommendation would unravel intricate BRAC plans.
Committee of Fifty member Randy Harris declined to comment on Cannon’s relation to Hill. Mayfield, McCall and Harris, however, said the BRAC process is not inherently caddy, in which one base is pitted against another.
“Cannon has to survive on its own merits,” McCall said. “My heart just aches for them (Cannon backers). I know how proud they are of Cannon Air Force Base.”