Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspapers
The window of opportunity for Cannon Air Force is ever-growing. That’s the message Randy Harris, one of Cannon’s most loyal supporters, walked away with Monday after participating in two separate telephone conferences.
“The bottom line is excitement,” said Harris, member of a subgroup nominated by the Cannon advocate group Committee of Fifty.
A federal decision requesting a new mission for Cannon renewed the fight to keep the base. Local and state officials are busy sowing the seeds for the base’s survival.
Members of the Committee of Fifty held an early-morning telephone conference with the team of professionals hired in previous months to save Cannon, including Piper DLA and Keystone International.
The purpose of the conference was to refocus, said Chad Lydick, Committee of Fifty member.
The Clovis-Portales area to date has spent $120,000 in the save-Cannon effort, Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas said Friday at a press conference. The bulk of that sum paid for the services of firms such as Piper DLA, local officials said.
According to Doug Karas, an Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon, it’s premature to suggest any timelines for Cannon closing since the Base Closure and Realignment process will not be complete until Congress approves it late this year.
He said the military is required to begin making changes within two years and must complete those changes within six years. Cannon supporters said last week the planes could begin leaving as early as 2007; Karas said that’s possible, but it’s too early to speculate.
“I wish I could give you a real solid answer,” he said.
Karas said it’s also too early to speculate on how many, if any, personnel will remain at Cannon after the planes have gone.
But the save-Cannon team hasn’t given up. The fight, once deemed non-political, is now spearheaded by Sen. Pete Domenici, R.-N.M., and the congressional delegation, said Lydick and Harris., who spoke with congressional delegates via telephone in a second Monday conference.
“We are looking at several missions that were displaced, that didn’t find a home during the BRAC process. The door has been open to look for any and all missions,” said Harris, who called the Air Force the heart and soul of the community. He added, however, that Army or homeland defense missions would also be ideal for Cannon.
Harris, who plans to return to Washington, D.C., for yet more Cannon lobbying sometime in October, is confident a new mission will nullify the F-16 void at Cannon.
If all goes as planned, the arrival of the new mission, whatever it may be, will correspond with the F-16 exodus, said Lydick.
“These are realistic expectations,” said Harris of mission-finding. “They are not false in any way.”
The period of limbo, in which citizens and businesses in Clovis are left uncertain of the base’s future, may end sooner than first anticipated, according to Lydick. The next six months might usher in a Cannon mission, he said. Lydick and Harris said finding a military mission for Cannon has always been a much more viable option than finding a private industry to move into the space.
“No one has come to me, knocked on my door, to say there is a private industry that could take the place of Cannon,” said Harris, a Clovis banker.
However, private industries could still find a home at Cannon, he said. For instance, said Harris, Lockheed Martin, Inc. trains pilots for flight, by government contract. Hosting such a program could be an option for Cannon, Harris said.