Commander details construction projects on base

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico

Col. Stephen Clark outlined 24 months at Cannon Air Force Base — the previous 12, and the next 12 — Tuesday at the New Mexico Military Base Planning Commission.

With a year left in his time, the commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon talked about the exponential growth of the base in terms of personnel, military training and construction.

Of Cannon’s eight squadrons, Clark said, four are currently in combat and three more are expected in combat before the end of 2010.

Clark said the base has received 1,000 personnel in the last 12 months, and that, “it drives a significant amount of the housing issue we are dealing with.”

One of the projects the base is working on is a 96-room dormitory, and is planning on two more, to replace a trio of “unsustainable” dormitories recently torn down. Within a few months, he said, the capacity of the base’s childcare center will double.

Those were important moves, he said, because 75 percent of the personnel at Cannon is Class E-6 or lower, meaning the personnel and their children tend to be younger.

“The elementary schools,” Clark said, “are going to see that upswing.”

There are eight colonels at the base, which Clark joked was probably two too many.

Clark detailed numerous construction projects, including ramp space and hangars in a southeast corner of the base that is mostly empty now.

“At the end of the day,” Clark said, “we will wind up with about 91 manned aircraft and 50 unmanned aircraft.”

One additional issue Clark said he wanted to see completed was the closure of Curry County Road R.

The road is located near base housing, a runway and an ammunition upload, which creates security issues, Clark said.

He showed a photograph of damage done by a drunken driver who wiped out 158 feet of fencing. Clark said he wanted to make the base less vulnerable to people who would intentionally do harm.

Clark said commanders at other bases have been disciplined in the past for not doing enough to address such issues, even if it meant battling with higher-ups.

“I have one year left here,” Clark said. “I’m going to keep hammering this.”

Hanson Scott, director of the state’s Office of Military Base Planning and Support, addressed various issues with other bases.

Scott said Holloman Air Force Base is hoping to receive F-35 (Joint Strike Fighter) aircraft, and was seeing if it would gain or lose F-22s.

The base, Scott said, has two 18-unit squadrons, but the Air Force wants to rearrange aircraft so F-22 squadrons include 24 planes. Scott said it’s too early to tell if Holloman would gain 12 aircraft or lose one or two squadrons.