Q&A: Retired general believes Cannon mission on way

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Retired Brig. Gen. Ben Robinson arrived in Clovis as a sixth-grader when his father was stationed at Cannon Air Force Base and chose to retire in the area.

Robinson graduated from Eastern New Mexico University in 1972 and joined the Air Force a year later. He has lived in 16 locations around the world. But he calls Clovis home and visits the city as often as he can.

After compiling more than 5,000 flight hours, scaling the ranks of the Air Force, and serving as the 552nd Air Control Wing Commander at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Robinson bowed out of the military. He works as a Boeing executive, serving as a logistics support systems director in Oklahoma City.

Last week, Robinson made a visit to Clovis, where he met with friends and spent a day hunting prairie dogs for fun.

The Clovis News Journal interviewed him Tuesday by telephone. He spoke about his connection to the area and current issues in Clovis, the military and the nation.

Q: What is your fondest memory of Clovis?

A: Dragging Main Street on a Saturday night.

I have great memories of Clovis. I still have good friends there. I like the people. They are down to earth, friendly, honest. I like the weather, and I just like the fact that it is a great town to grow up in, a town that is very good for families.

Q: How do you feel about the area now, as more than two decades have passed since you moved away?

A: The thing I hate the most is to see it change — to see what is happening with Cannon. I hate to see everyone so concerned about what is happening with the base and the fact that Clovis may change.

Q: What was the key to your success in the military?

A: You better have a good reason to be in the military. That reason needs to be love of your nation, being a patriot. Being in Clovis made me a patriot.

Q: Do you believe a mission will be found for Cannon?

A: Yes. When they (the military) understand Clovis is such a good place for a mission, they will come back.

Q: Do you know what mission might come to Cannon?

A: I have sure been asking the question, but I sure haven’t gotten an answer.

Q: What do you feel would be an ideal mission for Cannon?

A: Anything that takes advantage of the fact that we are out in a rural area, that we don’t have a lot of dangerous obstacles, like mountains or trees. Anything that would allow us to do wide, open missions, such as special operations. (Clovis) is a community that is well connected with the military, and any mission would thrive in that environment.

Q: Why do you think Cannon was targeted for closure in the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure round?

A: Primarily because it was a single-mission base. Those are the most vulnerable targets out there. For instance, at Tinker (Air Force Base in Oklahoma) we have the Navy and the Air Force, active duty and reserve and three major commands. It is a huge base on the edge of a huge city, and it is very well BRAC-proof.

Q: What is it you enjoy about flying airplanes?

A: It beats walking.

Q: Tell us about one of your most memorable flights.

A: Flying an airplane over Grady Elementary, a little school in Grady where my friend Martha Hardwick was teaching kindergarten. I formed a relationship with her school. … One day, I was flying out here (at Tinker) and headed to the western United States in an E-3. I flew by the school at 30,000 feet. All the kids stood outside in the front yard, and I talked to them from my phone as I flew over.

Q: Should Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld resign?

A: Nope, I like the guy. I flew with him on an airplane once. … He is very smart. He has a vision to transform the military from heavy and slow moving to rapidly deployable and agile. And he has the energy to execute his vision.

His problem right now is the press is against him.

Q: Should the U.S. remove troops from Iraq?

A: I think the number-one thing we need to do is build up Iraq’s military. They need a military that understands freedom is important. They have to have a reason to want to do that.

They have to take their country back.

Q: What do you see in the future of the military?

A: Joint-mission, absolutely.

We also need to improve our intelligence system. Right now, it is pretty screwed up. If you are going to have a doctrine of pre-emptive attack, then you better have a good intelligence system. That is the number-one thing we as a nation have to fix. I remember watching TV the morning of Sept. 11. It never dawned on me until the second airplane hit that it was an attack.

A good intelligence system is the most important weapon we have.