By Tonya Fennell: Freedom New Mexico
The 27th Special Operations Wing now calls Cannon Air Force Base home a little more than two years after nearly being shuttered.
Known as the Air Commandos, the special ops wing assumed ownership of the base in October.
Col. Timothy Leahy, a 44-year-old Staten Island, N.Y., native, who previously served as vice-commander of the 16th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla., is the new unit’s commander.
The base was pegged for closure in 2005 by the Base Realignment and Closure Committee.
However, the community rallied to keep the base and their wish was granted with the announcement of the new special ops mission in June 2006.
Since the October transition, Clovis Mayor David Lansford said residents have found a renewed optimism in Clovis’ role in supporting the military.
“Our community is focused on helping the men and women of Cannon Air Force Base execute their mission at the highest level possible,” Lansford said.
The new tenants began trickling into the base in November. The first squadron, the 73rd, includes 150 personnel and four MC-130Ws. The first squadron is expected to be at full strength by February, according to AFSOC spokesperson 1st Lt. Amy Cooper, and is expected to reach 12 aircraft by 2009.
A support squadron for unmanned aircraft known as MQ-1B Predators are slated to follow, but firm dates have not been nailed down, Cooper said.
Prior to the 27th SOW taking command, Cannon was under Air Combat Command. Their primary mission was associated with the F-16. Three fighter squadrons, the 524th Hounds, the 523rd Crusaders and the 522nd Fireballs, were inactivated and their aircraft were sent to various other installations.
The Air Force has said the final active-duty population at Cannon is expected to be between 4,400 to 5,600 people, building up over the next three years.
To accommodate the growing population and larger aircraft, several construction projects will need to be completed, including an MC-130 flight simulator facility, alterations to existing hangars, a modern fuel storage and distribution system and a consolidated airmen’s center.
Groundbreaking for the new airman’s center, which will include a post office, dining center, laundry facility, lounge center, media center and game room in 45,000 square-feet of space, will occur in February, according to Airman 1st Class Thomas Trower of Cannon Public Affairs.
Funding for the $10 million project was approved in the fiscal 2005 Military Construction program budget.
“We (city of Clovis) have a realistic attitude about how Cannon Air Force Base will evolve in the next few years,” Lansford said, “and we have a great deal of optimism about the outcome.”