By Marlena Hartz and David Irvin: Freedom Newspapers
Four members of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, including Chairman Anthony Principi, toured Cannon Air Force Base on Thursday. Officials said the commissioners, who will ultimately decide the fate of the base targeted for closure by the Department of Defense, spent about three hours at Cannon and spent time with Col. John Posner, Cannon’s commander.
Gov. Bill Richardson said Thursday night the commissioners were able to see the military value of Cannon, the absence of encroachment issues and the quality of the facilities at the base.
“They told me they were very impressed,” the governor said as he entered a reception in Clovis with BRAC commissioners and New Mexico’s congressional delegation. However, he maintained the fight for Cannon is still an uphill battle with so many other bases and challenges not in the control of New Mexico’s leaders.
In addition to Principi, a former secretary of veterans affairs, commissioners who toured Cannon were James Hansen, a former U.S. representative from Utah; James Hill, a retired Army general; and Sue Ellen Turner, a retired brigadier general from the Air Force.
Chad Lydick, a member of the Cannon support group Committee of Fifty, said the tour centered around some of Cannon’s newest facilities. Lydick said commissioners went inside the new tower, the fire station, and the security forces complex. The commissioners also viewed the base’s arsenal of F-16s, with crews on hand to answer inquiries.
“The commissioners were very informed on the attributes of Cannon,” said Lydick, describing the commissioners, who also ate lunch at the base, as “interested” in the installation.
“They asked several questions about the training-range initiative. They showed a lot of interest in the air space. They asked questions about encroachment, and there was interest in the additional acreage around the base, if it could be expanded.”
Lydick said the tour “went well,” but stopped short of describing the exchange in more detail.
“That’s all I want to say because there is a lot at stake here,” he said.
Touring bases targeted for closure is a BRAC tradition that goes back to 1980.
“Since the beginning of BRAC, the site visit has been a fundamental part of the process,” said BRAC director of communications Jim Schaefer. “It allows the commissioners to see the base with an independent eye.”
The commissioners are appointed by the president in an attempt to ensure the BRAC process is non-partisan and independent, according to www.brac.gov, the official Web site for the commission. During installation visits, commissioners specifically search for ways in which base facilities deviate from previously compiled Department of Defense BRAC installation composites, Schaefer said.
Five of the nine commissioners must agree before a base can be removed from the DoD’s targeted list for closure.