Mission: Not impossible

Committee of Fifty member Randy Harris speaks about what might be next for Cannon Air Force Base during a public briefing Tuesday at Clovis-Carver Public Library. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

Marlena Hartz: CNJ Staff Writer

Members of a Cannon Air Force Base advocate group urged the public Tuesday morning to regard the federal decision to enclave the base as positive.

“Now we have a definite opportunity. I don’t feel like we are in limbo. I feel like we have a known,” said Clovis banker and base advocate Randy Harris, flanked by Rep. Tom Udall, D.-N.M., and fellow base supporter Chad Lydick.

Dozens of community members and local leaders crowded into the North Annex of the Clovis-Carver Public Library on Tuesday in search of any sort of direction Harris and other Committee of Fifty members could provide in light of last week’s nebulous decree, which strips Cannon of its F-16s and leaves the base in need of a mission.

Base supporters said the community is poised to reel in a lucrative military operation for Cannon in a matter of months, not years.

“I actually feel better than I felt before,” Harris said. “I’m not here to sell you anything. I just want share my thoughts. … (The Base Closure and Realignment Commission) did not intend for us to be in a holding pattern. I think the community can make something happen (for the base) in the next six to eight months.”

Officials in Washington have said no decisions have been made regarding specific times for planes to begin leaving Cannon, but Harris said he believes Cannon will remain unchanged for at least a year. When that year expires, the community will begin to see “men and women and planes move,” he said. BRAC or no BRAC, that exodus was inevitable, he said, due to evolving military needs.

The save-Cannon steam engine, powered by civilian base supporters, professional consultants, and the New Mexico congressional delegation, is moving full speed ahead,

Harris and Lydick said. If anything, the pair agreed, the movement has only gained momentum since the enclave decision.

“You will see a vigilant effort in the House and Senate (to find a mission for Cannon),” Udall said.

In fact, that effort is under way, the representative said.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld written Monday, the state’s congressional delegation and Gov. Bill Richardson suggested Acting Deputy Secretary Gordon England visit Clovis to discuss possible missions for Cannon. Those missions are manifold, Udall said. Determining the best mission, he added, is another congressional imperative. The delegation has scheduled a post Labor Day meeting with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, according to Udall.

At least one citizen, however, is disillusioned by the seemingly endless struggle to keep Cannon.

“Speaking as a member of the community, I’m tired of band-aids,” said Clovis resident Bobby Newman, 70, at Tuesday’s library assembly.

Newman said he would like to see a community with enough infrastructure to stand independent of the base and corresponding federal whims.

Economic Development Department Secretary Rick Homans also addressed the North Annex audience. He said Newman’s vision for an economically diverse Clovis-Portales area is relevant.

“We are looking for things to diversify the economy here,” Homans said.