By Gabriel Monte: Freedom New Mexico
Cannon Air Force Base officials said significant strides have been made in modifying infrastructure and adding personnel and aircraft during its first year as an Air Force Special Operations Command installation.
The air base was marked for closure in 2006 by the Base Realignment and Closure Committee. But a successful community effort to keep the base open landed it a new mission with the Air Force Special Operations Command.
The 27th Special Operations Wing took over command of the former fighter base Oct. 1, 2007.
“I am pleased with the progress so far at Cannon Air Force Base,” 27th Special Operations Wing Commander Col. Tim Leahy said. “In the year we’ve been here, we’ve focused on building up the number of people and infrastructure needed to support Air Force Special Operations Command missions.”
Base officials said the base population is expected to reach 4,000 to 5,000 people by 2010.
There are 2,600 airmen and officers currently stationed at the base, according to Cannon Public Affairs Spokesman Staff Sgt. Brandon Seals .
Seals said 1,000 more personnel will be added by next summer.
In addition to personnel, Leahy said he expects the base’s aircraft fleet to grow to 100 in the next five years. The present fleet at Cannon includes six C-130 aircraft and five light and medium aircraft such as the PC-12.
Leahy said infrastructure at the base including taxiways and hangars have been modified to accommodate assigned aircraft .
Local community leaders and business owners said the transition is making an impact on the community.
Weichert Realtors owner Carolyn Spence said she noticed base personnel have been occupying a majority of rental residences in Clovis since July. She said military personnel are waiting for home prices to drop before purchasing a home.
Brewer Jeep Mitsubishi General Manager Loran Hill said a steady stream of special operations personnel have dropped by the dealership.
“The Jeep Wranglers and the Mitsubishi Lancers are both real popular with those guys,” he said.
Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield said she is pleased with the growth of the base.
“I think it’s been really beneficial for the community. It’s been beneficial for the city, and we’ve got a good working relationship with them,” she said.
She said Cannon personnel have taken steps to be involved in the community, pointing to the participation of 174 Cannon airmen Saturday during a community-wide clean up effort.
“They seem like they want to work with the community and help improve it, even so much as helping beautify (it) and things like that,” Brumfield said.
President Bush signed a bill last week that included $26.4 million for construction projects at Cannon and the purchase of 10 aircraft, including six CV-22 Osprey and four C-130 aircraft, that will be assigned to the base.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who announced last year he would not seek another term for health reasons, is optimistic about Cannon’s future.
“We’ve made good headway in getting AFSOC the resources it needs to configure the base to meet its needs, as well as overall funding to ensure the aircraft it needs are on the way,” Domenici said.