Pentagon talks about closing bases

One Curry County commissioner is confident Cannon Air Force Base would be spared in a Department of Defense proposal that calls for another round of domestic base closures.

"There's so much construction out there, and they just finished building C-130 hangars," Commissioner Frank Blackburn said. "It would be foolish to put Cannon on BRAC."

The Pentagon has proposed $2.4 billion over five years to cover the initial costs of base closings, set the round for 2015 and indicated the closures would not be implemented until a year after that as part of the president's proposed $526.6 billion budget for next year.

Although Blackburn is confident Cannon will be safe, Clovis City Commissioner Fidel Madrid is more cautious.

"They've put millions of dollars into the base," Madrid said. "But that doesn't mean it's safe."

Madrid said a major disadvantage of the base is a lack of politicians to fight for it. Because the region's population is small there aren't as many representatives as a city such as Phoenix or Albuquerque would have. He did say one great advantage for Cannon is that it has plenty of room to grow.

Madrid said the severity of the sequestration will be the deciding factor of whether or not Cannon AFB is put on the BRAC list.

In 2005, the Defense Department recommended the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) close Cannon and redistribute its three squadrons of F-16s to other wings.

After concluding that DoD had deviated substantially from its stated criteria for closing bases, the BRAC still shipped off Cannon's F-16s but recommended finding the base a new mission.

That new mission is the 27th Special Operations Wing, which brought with it about 3,700 active duty military personnel and 630 civilian employees, base officials said.

According to Cannon officials, the base's overall annual economic impact on the region is $339.7 million — more than one-third of Clovis' economy.

By 2014, Cannon will have more than 6,000 military and civilian personnel, officials said.

"We saved it once before," Madrid said. "Keeping it here is going to depend on what we do as a community."

Roosevelt County Commissioner Jake Lopez said, "I don't think BRAC is going to bother us this time. Of course, we've got to be ready and defend it if we have to."

Faced with a $487 billion budget cut over a decade, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon had no choice in drawing up the politically unpopular reductions in the president's proposed budget for next year.

The blueprint also calls for higher health care fees for retirees and their dependents, and a smaller pay raise for personnel.

Cost-conscious lawmakers have clamored for fiscal austerity in a period of trillion-dollar deficits, but often balk when the cuts hit military bases in their home states or affect powerful veterans' groups. That disconnect was on stark display during the nearly four hours the Pentagon leaders testified Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee.

The hearing underscored the difficulty the Pentagon faces in persuading Congress to accept what it says are cost-saving steps.

Republicans and Democrats on the panel criticized any additional base closings, arguing that the upfront costs were too high. Hagel said the base closing system was "imperfect," but argued it was a "comprehensive and fair approach" that would result in considerable savings in the long term.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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