By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
His posture told a story. Leo Dudley sat in a front pew at the 16th and Pile Church of Christ, leaning forward, his hands perched on his chin for nearly 90 minutes Friday morning as two local base supporters and a New Mexico delegation argued to have Cannon Air Force Base removed from the Base Realignment and Closure list.
Dudley has a personal stake in the process.
“I work at Cannon,” Dudley said, briefly shifting his eyes from the large screen that broadcast the hearing from the overflow church venue, where about 30 members of the community listened to pro-Cannon testimony.
He is one of more than 600 civilians employed at the base, according to the Cannon office of public affairs. For many military personnel stationed at the base, Cannon is just one stop in a long line of assignments, carried out at bases across the United States. Not so for employees like Dudley. If the base closes as recommended by the Department of Defense, Dudley would lose his job.
“There are a lot of programs to help people relocate if they need to — depending on what you do,” said Capt. Andre Kok of Cannon’s Public Affairs office. Qualification for certain government assistance programs, Kok said, is based on the type of job the employee performs — of the 600-plus civilian base employees, “some are contracted workers, some are government and civil service folks,” and the type of aid a worker receives is dependent upon their position, Kok said.
Charla Krumheuer’s husband is an electronic technician at Melrose Bombing Range — at Friday’s rally for Cannon, an event planned after Friday’s regional Base Realignment and Closure, her face carried the same look of intensity worn on Dudley’s.
“We might have to move,” Krumheuer said, seated under the shade, the option of relocation Kok spoke of most viable for the couple. “But I basically told him (my husband) not to worry so soon.”
But the odds for Eric and Charla Krumheuer don’t look good. Historically, 85 percent of the bases recommended for closure do indeed shutter. And state leaders are lumping Cannon and Melrose in the same lot. New Mexico Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons said he would seek the return of about 80,000 acres of state trust land that surrounds the base and the Melrose Bombing Range if Cannon closes. A similar statement was made by Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M.
“While the Air Force,” said Wilson at Friday’s hearing, “assumes that these ranges will continue to be available even if Cannon closes, I don’t think that is a reasonable assumption for the long term. People accept training ranges when they are associated with bases in their communities. Without the base, support for the ranges will erode.”
Statements like Wilson’s have Eric Krumheuer on edge.
“If Cannon does close and the Air Combat Command wanted to keep the range open, it would be very selfish of the city of Clovis to fight that in an all or nothing type deal,” said retired Senior Master Sgt. Krumheuer, who makes about $60,000 a year operating and maintaining ground radar systems, and says that Melrose Bombing Range generates income that can’t be replaced for the 30 other civilians with whom he works.
“If the range closes, we are leaving. If I stayed here, I would have to take a 60 percent cut in pay,” said Krumheuer, who like many area military retirees once stationed at Cannon, grew to like the Clovis area, and never left. “With the experience I have there is nothing else out there for me to do.”
For now, the Krumheuers are just standing fast, and waiting.
“We both understand that if it (Cannon and Melrose) happens, it happens and it is time to move on with life,” Eric said.
But moving on, for the Krumheuers means leaving a community they have lived in for more than 14 years — a community three of their five children have settled into permanently.
“The saddest thing would be leaving the kids that are here,” Eric Krumheuer said.