Gabriel Bryant of Clovis shows his support for Cannon Air Force Base as a delegation of New Mexico politicians talk to people outside Marshall Junior High School after the BRAC regional hearing. (Staff photo: John Eisel)
By Leslie Radford: CNJ Staff writer
They lined up 5,000 American flags, shoe-polished windows with “We love Cannon,” created a human “Keep Cannon” sign, honked horns and sported “Operation: Keep Cannon” T-shirts and buttons.
Their mission: Show Base Realignment and Closure commissioners that eastern new Mexico doesn’t want to lose Cannon Air Force Base.
“I have been here 61 years,” said Deloris Eichenberger, who helped make the human sign from red and yellow posterboard. “I can’t imagine Clovis without Cannon.”
Whether the show of support — officials estimated several thousand participated in the parade and post-hearing rally — will help in removing Cannon from the list of bases targeted for closure remains to be seen. But BRAC commissioners could not help but be aware of the vocal crowd as they traveled from their hotel to the regional hearing at Marshall Junior High.
Gov. Bill Richardson said the people were evidence of the “human side” of a base closing.
“You saw them waving their flags, welcoming you — thousands of patriotic Americans who have dedicated their lives to Cannon, strengthening its value to the military,” Richardson told commissioners.
Prince Street and Commerce Way began to fill with Cannon supporters by 6 a.m. Friday, more than two hours before the hearing began. Cannon supporters throughout the region decorated with a patriotic theme intended for a Whirlwind bus shuttling the six BRAC commissioners to Marshall.
“If the base were to close, I would lose a lot of business,” said Andrea Lupo, owner of Sparkle Cleaners. She said her dry-cleaning business holds the dry-cleaning account for the base.
“I think it’s important to let these guys know we care,” Lupo said.
Qwest officials said they would lose many of their crew members if the base were to close. Employees lined up five utility trucks at the corner of Prince and Commerce and raised buckets holding the American flag.
Volunteer organizations also said losing the base would be detrimental to their services as a large percentage of volunteers are base employees and spouses. Groups from ENMRSH, the hospital auxiliary, Roosevelt General Hospital and other organizations that rely on volunteer services held large banners in support of Cannon.
After the Cannon portion of the BRAC hearing, local radio station KSMX brought rally-goers together to form a human-sign. More than 1,000 people helped spell “Keep Cannon” for a television station’s news helicopter.
Wendy Sharpe of Portales held up part of an “E” in the sign.
“It was a blessing to be part of it. It was a blessing to hold this,” Sharpe said. She was juggling one of the sign’s red poster boards along with a soda and a “Keep Cannon” poster. Her arms she said, were tired from holding signs and waving flags all morning.
Others said the posterboard made great shade in the afternoon’s sun. For Portales’ Sharon Cavett, fighting Friday’s 90-degree heat was a small price to pay in order to send the message.
“It’s hard to put in perspective, when you’re standing in your little spot with your little sign. But I feel proud to be here. It was hot, but I think it will be worth it,” she said.