By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley has identified a potential new mission for Cannon Air Force Base, but its nature isn’t yet public, according to a press release from the offices of New Mexico’s U.S. senators.
“My staff is actively exploring options and has already identified one promising candidate mission” for Cannon, Moseley wrote, saying he had directed the staff to pursue the option and expedite the process if it’s feasible.
If the Department of Defense does not identify a new mission for Cannon by 2010, it will close by decree of a federal commission. But many laud Moseley’s shrouded mission as a sure sign that won’t happen.
“We don’t know what (his) potential mission would be,” Matt Letourneau, spokesman for Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., “but it would be an Air Force mission. This is the biggest sign we’ve gotten that the Air Force is taking this (Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommendation) seriously.”
In addition to the mention of a potential mission, Moseley indicated he will keep Cannon’s assets in place until the mission-finding search is complete, via a letter to the New Mexico senators, the press release said.
Letourneau said the letter was written in response to language Domenici and Bingaman inserted into the Senate’s Fiscal Year 2006 Defense Appropriations Bill. The language would prevent assets from being moved during the search for a Cannon mission, the senators previously said. Members of the House and Senate are negotiating final details of the bill, according to the release.
Officials say closing Cannon would devastate much of eastern New Mexico and cost 4,700 jobs on and off the base.
Clovis resident and committed Cannon advocate Chad Lydick celebrated the contents of Moseley’s letter.
“It’s a nice Christmas present for the community,” Lydick said. “It shows the chief of staff has definite plans for Cannon.”
Moseley also promised none of the 27 Fighter Wing’s aircraft at Cannon will be transferred in fiscal year 2006.
Lydick said he is impressed with the speedy movement of Air Force officials in the search for a Cannon mission. Though Air Force officials identified a potential mission for Cannon, Lydick still feels there may be an amalgam of missions at Cannon.
In a joint statement, Domenici and Bingaman called Moseley’s announcement a positive sign for Cannon’s future.
“The assurances provided by the Air Force chief of staff in this letter are extremely significant,” they said. “We appreciate General Moseley’s willingness to personally monitor the progress of the analytical team that visited Cannon.”
The senators visited Clovis last week with an eight-person Air Force evaluation team that toured the base. That team will report to Moseley and other Air Force officials.
Lydick said the fact-finding tour went “extremely well.”
“They were very, very impressed and very positive,” he said.
Gov. Bill Richardson was optimistic after meeting with the team last week, said his spokesman, Billy Sparks. Richardson met with Moseley earlier in the fall.
The governor believes “the sooner this is resolved, the better off everyone will be in eastern New Mexico,” Sparks said.
Letourneau said Moseley and the Pentagon have not stopped searching for a mission or missions for Cannon, despite announcement of the potential mission.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.