Year in review: Cannon begins to see growth

By Gabriel Monte: Freedom New Mexico

The 27th Special Operations Wing made steady progress in 2008 of preparing Cannon Air Force Base for more personnel as well as adapting to new methods of warfare.

Chief of Public Affairs Capt. Mae-Li Allison said the base has 2,100 military personnel and 560 civilian employees. She said there are seven MC-130W Combat Spears and 6 non-standard aviation assigned to the base at present.

“This is certainly an exciting time for us at Cannon Air Force Base and for the Air Force,” said 27th Special Operations Wing Commander Col. Tim Leahy. “We are essentially building this AFSOC base from the ground up and expect much of the base’s growth both in personnel and in construction to happen within the next five to seven years.”

To provide incoming personnel with modern housing, 350 housing units are being demolished, according to base officials. New housing units are expected after 2010 when base housing is privatized.

Construction of a new 28,000-square-foot dining and recreation facility started in January in anticipation of more airmen coming to Cannon.

Congress approved a military spending package this year, which includes $26 million for construction at the base. Projects include a hangar for MC-130 aircraft and a CV-22 Osprey training facility. Leahy said construction will start in 2009.

President Bush also signed a spending bill authorizing $2.2 billion in supplemental cash to purchase five MC-130J and five CV-22 aircraft for Cannon and build a childcare facility on base.

Three special operations squadrons activated at Cannon in 2008. Next year base officials anticipate five more squadrons moving to Cannon.

But the move to Cannon is not entirely welcome.

In October a letter to the Secretary of Defense from members of the 16th Special Operations Squadron in Hurlburt Field, Fla. warned against the move to Cannon citing conditions that could make operating AC-130 gun ships dangerous.

The squadron is one of the five slated to move to Cannon in 2009, according to base officials.

Squadron officials said the letter reflected anxiety from members of the squadron. They compared the letter to family members apprehensive before a big move.

Air Force officials said while the move to Cannon does present changes to the operation of the aircraft, it would not hinder it completely. Such changes include flying lighter and training in cooler temperatures.

The community was invited in July to a joint training exercise, a showcase of technology used to link services such as the Air Force, Marine Corps and the Army on the battlefield. Dubbed Joint Lightning, the exercise demonstrated the need for joint operations in the War on Terror, according to Capt.Vic Norris of the Air Force Special Operations Command.

Cannon was put on the Base Realignment And Closure list in 2005.

In 2007, the base was placed on enclave status, then assigned to Air Force Special Operations Command.