By Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspapers
We will fight this.
The refrain could be heard Friday from the city offices in Clovis and Portales, to the governor’s office in Santa Fe, to the halls of Congress, where New Mexico’s congressional delegation vowed support in efforts to remove Cannon Air Force Base from the Defense Department’s proposed list of military base closures.
“When we are told our identity is going to change — and that’s what Cannon Air Force Base is to this community, our identity — then you will see us like you’ve never seen us before,” Clovis Mayor David Lansford said Friday from the Clovis-Carver Public Library, a banner behind him proclaiming the city’s support for the base it has embraced for more than 50 years. “We have the right cause, the right people and the right resources to win. Our mission is to remove Cannon from this list.”
Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega, who announced Friday that the city of Portales donated $100,000 to the Cannon cause, answered the call to arms with similar mentality.
“We have enough resources to make our case. We have the will and we have the message. There is no uncertainty about the value of Cannon. This is a challenge, and when there’s a challenge, there’s an opportunity to win,” Ortega said.
Hundreds of miles away in Santa Fe, Gov. Bill Richardson also voiced support to help save Cannon.
“We will fight this together,” he said, assuring the public that New Mexico’s congressional delegates were united across party lines in their support of Cannon. The economy of eastern New Mexico, Richardson said, hinges on the survival of Cannon.
The Department of Defense realignment and closure list was released Friday morning in Washington.
Cannon is one of two Air Force bases and 33 military bases nationwide slated to close as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process.
Area, state and national leaders wasted no time announcing plans to fight the recommendation. Richardson is holding a town hall meeting at 9 a.m. Monday at Clovis-Carver Public Library to discuss Cannon’s future.
If approved by Congress and President Bush, a Cannon closure would mean a loss of 4,780 jobs — 2,824 base jobs and an estimated 1,956 jobs in the area, according to the Pentagon.
First Lt. Jennifer Geeslin of Cannon public affairs said there are more than 4,000 active-duty members and civilians at the base, including 270 officers and 3,201 enlisted airmen.
The Department of Defense proposal to close Cannon hit eastern New Mexico harder than any other community in the nation; it’s estimated Cannon is directly responsible for 20 to 26 percent of the area’s jobs.
Cannon supporters expressed disbelief, frustration and anger following Friday’s announcement, claiming the Pentagon’s analysis failed to take into account the lack of encroachment on the base or that planes from Cannon can fly 320 days a year because of clear weather.
They also said the Air Force failed to trumpet a proposed supersonic airspace expansion that could be approved later this year.
“That’s why it’s so important to get a good analysis of (Cannon’s) military value. … This extra access to supersonic training is a large part of that,” said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., expressing confidence Cannon can be removed from the closure list. “There are a lot of good arguments we can make.”
Previous BRAC commissions have accepted 85 percent of bases the Pentagon recommended for closure.
Randy Harris, a member of a volunteer Cannon support group called the Committee of Fifty, said he still believes the base meets criteria for survival outlined last year by DoD.
While the Pentagon has claimed “military value” would determine which military installations are shuttered, Harris is among local leaders wondering if other issues were explored behind the scenes.
“There could have been some kind of political pressure applied to the Department of Defense,” said Harris, a Clovis bank president. He declined to explain why he has such concerns.
Ted Hartley, another Committee of Fifty member, said he is confused by Friday’s proposals.
“Take Luke Air Force Base, for example,” said Hartley, a 9th Judicial District Court judge. “The air space around there is so full of traffic, it becomes a significantly dangerous use of air space.”
The entire BRAC process, Hartley said, should be scrutinized in a time of war.
“There are many members of the Congress who think BRAC is not appropriate at this time. I’m not sure BRAC will survive the congressional review,” Hartley said.
Richardson on Friday released $300,000 in state money to bolster an effort to come up with an independent analysis of Cannon and lobby the BRAC Commission. Cannon supporters, including those from Clovis and Portales, already had set aside more than $500,000 in case the base was hit.
DoD has said it takes five votes of the nine-member commission to spare any installation on the closure list.
Nationwide, the 33 major bases recommended for closure are more than any of the previous four rounds of closings. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said his plan would save $48.8 billion over 20 years while making the military more mobile and better suited for the global effort against terrorism.
The closures and downsizings would occur over six years starting in 2006.
Regardless of the political entanglements inherent in the BRAC process, area leaders urged the public to be optimistic: Cannon has a story to tell — and it will be heard, they said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Town Hall Meeting
What: Meeting to discuss the future of Cannon Air Force Base.
When: 9 a.m. Monday.
Where: Clovis-Carver Public Library
Who: Gov. Richardson, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega, Clovis Mayor David Lansford and Hanson Scott, Brigadier General, USAF (Ret), Procurement Manager, N.M. Economic Development Department.