Opinion: Base ingrained in area culture

By Karl Terry: Freedom New Mexico

Like many who grew up on the eastern plains of New Mexico, I can’t remember a time when there weren’t fighter jets in the sky above me.

Monday that chapter of history closed at Cannon Air Force Base and a new one opened.

It’s bittersweet for some of us because our beloved jets are gone, but the air base that has served as a common thread for the communities of Clovis and Portales has new life.

I was born the year that the 27th Fighter Wing came to Cannon. They were flying the F-100s then and I clearly remember as a kid in the 1960s always taking time to gaze skyward anytime one of those birds flew over a peanut field. Back then it was still OK to break the sound barrier, and we all got used to seeing jets pass then getting the sonic boom that followed. It rattled the windows and dishes and woke the baby.

Later, I worked in the mailroom at the Portales News-Tribune while I was in high school. We printed the base’s newspaper, the Mach Meter, every Friday and I often got to help deliver the papers to the base. Everybody on base knew us and was glad to see us bringing the papers. The existence of the base, in part, gave me the job that helped buy my first car.

It’s always been that way — people stationed from the base were often as different as they could be from the locals but they appreciated our friendly, laid-back style of community. We appreciated the dollars they supplied to our economy and the mission they were accomplishing for our country.

With the change to Special Operations’ ownership of the base that mission is going to change drastically for the men and women at Cannon. The new mission will be extremely important to the war on terror and will likely bring our base back to a vanguard position in the military, much like we were when the 27th Fighter Wing was located here at the height of the Cold War in 1959.

The indications are that the 27th Special Operations Wing is every bit as committed to enjoying the same type of relationship with the community as its predecessor. We all know from the Herculean efforts mounted by the community that Clovis and Portales residents deeply desire to bond with the new command at Cannon.

We’re going to have to get used to seeing those C-130s lumbering through our skies instead of F-16s. Some of the personnel will no doubt be of a slightly different stripe. Air Commandos do a much different job than a fighter pilot, but it’s likely the same Air Force pride and love of freedom swells in each of their hearts.

I didn’t get a ride in one of the new CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft on Monday, but I’m not holding that against anyone just yet.

There’s much more work to do before the transition is completed. Times are likely going to be lean for the next couple of years as they ramp up to full operational capability at the base, but the first big step has now been taken.

Be patient, welcome the new folks heartily and get ready for change.

Karl Terry is managing editor for the Portales News-Tribune. He can be contacted at 356-4483, ext. 33. His e-mail address is:
karl_terry@link.freedom.com