Cannon to have more people, quieter planes

By Marlena Hartz : Freedom Newspapers

When the new tenants of Cannon Air Force Base — the Air Force Special Operations 16th Wing — arrive, the face of Clovis will alter, according to an administrator at Hurlburt Field, a Florida Panhandle installation where the wing and Air Force Special Operations Command are housed.

“There will be a modest increase in the population of the base, and the town of Clovis will probably grow to support that increase,” said Lt. Col. Toby Corey, chief of the AFSOC’s program integration branch at Hurlburt.

“There will be more people and quieter airplanes, much quieter,” Corey said.

About half the personnel expected to filter into Cannon Air Force Base over the next two years will hail from outside Hurlburt Field, according to Corey. The other half will relocate from Hurlburt, he said.

Those who do not come from Hurlburt will be pulled from other Air Force Special Operations units or will be newly assigned to Air Force Special Operations, Corey said.
Hurlburt will regain its status as the 1st Special Operations Wing, and personnel and aircraft will be split between Hurlburt and Cannon.

Corey said personnel at Hurlburt have “mixed emotions” about leaving Hurlburt, near tourist destinations Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola.

“People have developed some roots here, but that (leaving) is part of being the military. It is human nature to get comfortable in your surroundings, and change is something that is tough to deal with, especially when someone else makes those decisions for you,” Corey said.

To accommodate the influx of people and planes, Corey said several construction projects need to be undertaken at Cannon.

Maintenance hangars for a new fleet of aircraft, which may include AC-130U Gunships, MC-130H Combat Talon IIs, MC-130P Combat Shadows and CV-22 Ospreys, must be built, along with a squadron operations building, a communication facility, and possibly more housing units and dormitories, Corey said.

“Those are the big-ticket items,” he said.

With hundred of acres of land empty for development, there is plenty of room at Cannon for such additions, Corey said. By comparison, conditions at Hurlburt, the lieutenant colonel said, are cramped.

There is also plenty of room at Cannon — AFSOC officials have deemed — for combat aviation advisor squadrons who advise U.S. coalition partners in the war on terror and special tactics, combat controllers who set up navigational aid equipment to guide aircraft for landing on makeshift runways, and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Already, there are 1,644 family housing dwellings and 99 lodging rooms at Cannon, according to information provided by the BRAC Program Management Office. The base also has 423,400 square feet of administrative facilities.

Those built-in assets drew AFSOC to Cannon, Corey said.
“Any other place we looked at had a tenant. We would have had to build from scratch,” Corey said.

Thus, costs associated with relocating will be drastically reduced, he said.

Melrose Bombing Range, a 66,000-acre training range located 25 miles from Cannon, and the region’s similarity to contingency zones in the Middle East also enticed AFSOC officials to the High Plains, officials have said.

The bulk of the 4,000 active-duty and civilian personnel at Cannon will remain at the base, according to New Mexico government officials.

Who will stay and who will go at both bases is still unclear, however, officials at Cannon and Hurlburt said. No concrete timeline has been provided by the Air Force for the wing transitions.

Cannon personnel who directly support the F-16 mission now at Cannon will transfer to new assignments as the aircraft for which they are responsible transfer to their new bases, according to an Air Force press release issued Tuesday.

That exodus is expected to consume six to 12 months, the Air Force press release said.

There are 98 active-duty pilots at Cannon, but a spokesperson for Cannon, 1st Lt. James Nichols, would not release details about other personnel tethered to the jets.