By Marlena Hartz: CNJ Staff Writer
A cross section of individuals from the Air Force 16th Special Operations Wing will visit eastern New Mexico in late July, chiefly to experience the resources of the region, according to local officials.
Twenty to 30 members of the 16th Wing will visit with area officials July 20-21, according to Randy Harris, a local Cannon Air Force Base advocate. Tours of Cannon Air Force Base, Clovis and Portales are slated, he said.
An overview of the region’s infrastructure will be provided through meetings with officials in health, education, housing, recreation, law enforcement and safety, Harris said. Spouses of 16th Wing members have also been invited to attend the meetings, he said.
“It is an opportunity to show them how we take good care of housing, schooling and medical needs so they know they are coming to a place that has the resources to take care of them and their families,” Harris said.
The visit was scheduled at the request of 16th Wing officials, Harris said.
The Wing will assume ownership of Cannon Air Force Base in October 2007, sparing the base from closure as recommended in the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment round.
The exact number of personnel and aircraft to be assigned at Cannon has yet to be determined, according to Air Force officials. However, the number of personnel at the base could increase threefold in the coming years, Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., told members of the press after the new mission was announced in June.
Clovis Municipal Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm said she has limited details about the mission.
School officials speculate that major growth in the region would not take place this year but next, Seidenwurm said.
“We are very excited to have the prospect of being in a growth mode for the first time in about 10 years,” Seidenwurm said. The school district has shrunk by 1,400 students in the past 10 years, according to information provided by the schools.
School officials want to learn “as much as they can as soon as they can” about the new mission, and hope the meeting will be a conduit for information exchange, Seidenwurm said.
Dignitaries from Clovis may visit Hurlburt Field — the Florida Panhandle installation that currently houses the 16th Wing — at a later date, Harris said.
Those meetings would also address issues or concerns that could arise with the wing transfer, he said.