Cannon on Air Force special ops short list

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

An in-depth report examining Cannon Air Force Base as a potential site for Air Force special forces has been submitted to the Pentagon, a spokesman for Air Force Special Operations Command told the Clovis News Journal on Monday.

Cannon and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz., are two bases being considered for special forces expansion, AFSOC spokesperson Matt Durham said. The reports were submitted earlier this spring, he said.

Headquartered at Hurlburt Field in western Florida, AFSOC prepared the reports “on how well the installations would fit” with Air Force special operations missions, Durham said. The reports assessed the infrastructure and available range space at the installations, he said.

Durham said his command was ordered by the Pentagon to prepare in-depth examinations of just those two bases for expansion of Air Force special operations. He said he did not know if those were the only bases being examined for expansion because the decision on where and when to expand is made at the Pentagon level.

Military special operations are expanding nationally, and the Air Force Special Operations Command is interested in having a western base near the Pacific Ocean for training purposes, Durham said.

During the next five years, AFSOC expects to add up to 2,000 special-forces airmen, in addition to the 13,000 or so it already has, military officials say.

Davis-Monthan is home to the 12th Air Force headquarters and a diverse set of missions and aircraft, including A-10 Thunderbolts, EC-130H Compass Class and HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters.

Cannon is waiting for an announcement of a long-term mission after being placed on enclave status as part of the 2005 round of base closures and realignments.

AFSOC’s interest in Cannon is not a result of the search for a new mission for the base, wherein the secretary of the Air Force will recommend a Cannon mission to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld this summer, according to Air Force spokeswoman Shirley Curry.

“It just happens that they are looking at Cannon, where there may be a potential for them,” Curry said.

A group of Tucson, Ariz., residents, called Tucsonans for Sound Solutions, penned a letter to Pentagon officials, which touted Cannon as a suitable installation for the Air Force Special Operations Command while depicting Davis-Monthan Air Force Base as an encroached installation with little to offer the command.

Davis-Monthan has drawn the ire of some residents who believe the Tucson base is too noisy.

Encroachment issues are a factor in the decision on where to expand, Durham said, but he said military officials are “concerned about everything” in regard to the installations.

Pentagon officials recommended the shuttering of Cannon during the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process. A federal commission spared the base from immediate closure, requesting the Department of Defense search for a new mission for the base, or close it by 2010.

Curry said the Air Force mission finding team has approached the final stages of finding a mission for Cannon. They are reviewing “proposals to determine compatible, conflicting, and overlapping proposed uses for Cannon,” according to a pamphlet the group previously issued. Once they are finished, they will announce their recommendation for the future of Cannon to Pentagon officials, Curry said.