Cannon backers: Defense bill won’t hurt

A F-117A Nighthawk soars over Cannon Air Force Base during the 2005 Air Expo in September. (Staff photo)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

The 2007 military budget proposal sent Monday to Congress by the Pentagon calls for increased investments in technology, but scales back personnel and aging inventory.

The Air Force has been urged by New Mexico senators to cork the void that will likely be left by a proposal to retire F-117s at Holloman Air Force Base.

The Air Force is also coordinating the campaign to find Cannon Air Force Base a new mission. All while contending with a shrinking staff likely to be slashed by 40,000 people over the next several years.

But the chances of a quality mission coming to Cannon Air Force Base won’t be hampered by any of the above developments, which seek to modernize the military, Cannon advocates said on Tuesday.

If approved by Congress, President Bush’s proposal to retire stealth fighter jets housed at Holloman would be complete in two years. The recommendation follows a compromise made in August, which bequeathed Cannon’s three F-16 squadrons to installations across the country.

Then, Department of Defense officials wanted to shutter Cannon. But an independent, federal commission voted in August to keep the base open — at least until 2010, as government officials search for a new mission for the base.

“The news in regards to the F-117 is not unexpected for both those in our community as well as community members and leaders in Alamogordo,” said Randy Harris, prominent leader of a local Cannon lobbyist group, the Committee of Fifty.

Despite being stripped of big assets, the bases are not vying against one another for missions, Cannon and Holloman advocates said.

“We are going to make sure we don’t go ahead and advocate putting a mission in at Holloman that would conflict with what is wanted at Cannon. We are working from the same end, and have been doing so for years,” said Alamogordo Committee of Fifty member Ed Brabson.

Though the qualities hawked at both locations are similar — great weather, no encroachment, and quality air space — Holloman and Cannon are quite different, Brabson said.

Holloman currently hosts several tenets, while Cannon hosts one, Brabson said. Talk of retiring the F-117 Nighthawk is far from new, and last year Holloman was visited by 10 Air Force inspections team already shopping around for a mission to replace the 50 Nighthawks at Alamogordo, Brabson said.

New Mexico Director of the Office for Military Base Planning and Support Hanson Scott said, “The Air Force is looking at Holloman differently. They have been reviewing the Air Force structure, and have known the F-117 was an older system for years.”

He added that “both bases will be in good shape.”
In an e-mail to the Clovis News Journal, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., also underscored the positive side of military restructuring.

“The president’s budget recommends a reduction of Air Force personnel. This does not necessarily mean a reduction of overall missions, but is another part of the restructuring going on throughout the military,” he wrote.
Indeed, while some sectors of the military are shuttered, one in particular — special operations — will expand, the Pentagon has said.

Special operations missions at Cannon have been discussed, Cannon advocates said.

But too many visitors from too many government departments have come to Cannon for Harris to say whether or not Cannon has actually hosted special ops officials from other bases, he said.

Toiling on the other end is the Air Force team assigned to evaluate Cannon. They are days away from completing a computerized report, which will be viewed by government agencies interested in coming to Cannon, said Shirley Curry, a spokeswoman for that team.

“We are staying on course,” said Curry, who was not sure if all aspects of the report would be available to the public.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.