After more than 50 years, Cannon has become ‘us’

By David Stevens: Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico Editor

This is personal.
We know the economic impact: Twenty-something percent of our communities’ jobs are tied directly to Cannon Air Force Base and hundreds of millions of dollars go through there every year, much of it circulating through our restaurants and car dealerships and flower shops and every other business around.
But Friday’s news from Washington is threatening more than our towns’ financial health; if Cannon closes, we lose part of our soul — the part that makes Clovis-Portales different than anyplace else in eastern New Mexico or the Texas Panhandle.
From Tucumcari to Amarillo, from Lubbock to Elida, the natives are all basically the same: conservative thinkers with close ties to family and the land, mostly football fans driving pickup trucks, all battling tumbleweeds and watching the spring skies for tornadoes and a chance of rain.
But for more than 50 years, Cannon has given Clovis-Portales a little different flavor. The people from the base don’t run cows, they fly and maintain fighter jets; they don’t just visit aunts and uncles in New York or California, they’ve lived in England and Japan; they don’t worry so much about brown spots in their yards, because they may have to go to war tomorrow.
We’ve come to embrace those differences because these Air Force folks don’t just pass through town for us to wave at, like Corvettes along U.S. 60 — they play softball with us and they go to church with us, and their kids learn to walk and to read and to ride motorcycles with our kids.
They don’t always stay long, but they have become us.
Kate is a soccer fan from New England. She married a Cannon-based flyboy about three years ago. I inspired her to read “Bang the Drum Slowly,” the best baseball book ever. She made me read “Bias,” a book about political slants in journalism. She’s in Oklahoma now, looking to start a family.
Susan’s baby must be in middle school by now; I wonder if they still have that huge collection of Coke memorabilia.
Keith is leaving later this month for a public-relations job in Oklahoma. He just might be the funniest newspaper guy I’ve ever known, although Shorty was a dead ringer for Austin Powers a few Halloweens ago.
I don’t hear from Bron anymore, but it’s nice to know she started celebrating Groundhog Day in England on her return. She said she’d never heard of it until coming to eastern New Mexico. I’m glad we were able to broaden her horizons.
Richard is still here. He’s still outspoken. I don’t know many people with the courage to speak their mind when, like Richard, they know many around them will disagree; I guess you’re not afraid of much once you’ve served a tour in Iraq.
If the Base Realignment and Closure Commission goes through with the Defense Department’s plan to shut down Cannon, Clovis and Portales will survive.
But we won’t be the same.
So if anybody wonders why this community is planning to fight so hard to keep the base, I suppose it’s partly because we’re afraid of losing so many jobs and the impact that will have on our economy. It is more because we’ve come to care about the people who come with those jobs.
This is personal.

David Stevens is editor for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. Contact him at 1-800-819-9925 or by e-mail:
David_Stevens@link.freedom.com