Federal report: Cannon projections optimistic

By Karl Terry: Freedom New Mexico

A report released last week by the Government Accountability Office indicates personnel and plane numbers for Cannon Air Force Base’s Special Operations mission may not be as high as military officials originally predicted.

But local officials, as well as the state’s Congressional delegation, said there’s nothing problematic for Cannon about the information in the report.

“We’ve told people we’re going to have a slowdown for awhile,” Cannon advocate and Clovis banker Randy Harris said. “That’s not news to me and it’s not for this community,” he said of the numbers in the report.

The report, released Friday, shows that AFSOC had originally projected as many as 5,700 personnel would be moved to Cannon by the end of fiscal year 2010. Because of funding constraints, assignments of 1,400 of those personnel are under review by the Department of Defense, the report shows.

Those numbers would still be within the lower range of AFSOC estimates and would be the approximate size of the base before the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process when Cannon was an F-16 base.

Recommended for closure during BRAC, Cannon instead was spared when the Department of Defense assigned it a special operations mission. The 27th Special Operations Wing was activated Oct. 1.

The GAO report noted the pace of personnel growth may change because AFSOC has announced it will bring fewer aircraft to Cannon than originally planned. AFSOC officials have previously maintained aircraft numbers would be approximately 100. The GAO report indicates AFSOC has revised that number to 68 aircraft by 2010.

AFSOC spokesperson Lt. Col. Stephanie Holcombe said in a prepared statement that AFSOC worked closely with the GAO regarding transfer of people and equipment to Cannon while they were compiling the report starting in June 2007.

“The numbers of airmen and aircraft moving to Cannon have always been contingent upon maintaining the force structure flexibility required to fight the ongoing global war on terrorism, as well as on receiving the funding for the acquisition of additional AFSOC aircraft and equipment,” Holcombe said.

Holcombe said AFSOC will continue to push for funding for the aircraft needed as well as to recruit the career fields unique to special operations.

Harris said the fact that the GAO report was forwarded to Congress without adverse comments shows that the DOD’s decision-making process in awarding Cannon a new mission was a thorough one.

“The great news is we’re not going to be zero, which is where we were headed before,” Harris said. “Based upon what I see, the commitment that has been made to make Cannon an AFSOC base means it has great potential to grow.”

Harris said the numbers are constantly changing with AFSOC and the Air Force and that is nothing new.

“People just need to be able to give them some time,” Harris said. “This is not something that we have to take on overnight. It’s going to be a long, slow process.”

A joint press release from U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman agreed with Harris’ assessment that the Air Force used the correct analysis and made the right decision in transitioning Cannon.

“There’s nothing earth-shattering in this (GAO) report, and it only solidifies my enthusiasm for the future of AFSOC at Cannon,” Domenici said in the release. “While the GAO might estimate that there will be fewer aircraft at Cannon, the truth is AFSOC numbers have changed before and could change again. We don’t know for sure what the final Cannon numbers will be, but know that there will be great things for Cannon.”