By Tony Parra: PNT Staff Writer
Friday the 13th of May was certainly a horror story for supporters of Cannon Air Force Base, as Portales residents learned that CAFB is one of 33 bases on the Base Realignment and Closure Commission list.
While some were shocked and imagining worst-case scenarios, others hope the story can be changed before the recommendation goes to President George W. Bush in September.
“It is a true-blue ‘Friday the 13th,’” said Marshall Stinnett, the president of Eastern New Mexico University’s board of regents and a member of the state’s Military Base Planning Commission. “We were promised a fair BRAC and this is not a fair BRAC.
“We’re going to work with Clovis. We’re going to try to get Cannon Air Force Base off the list.”
Jackie Burns, Brown Elementary principal, said Friday’s news was “upsetting.” Burns’ husband, Patrick, works at Cannon.
“He was taken back when he heard the news,” Jackie Burns said. “It’s been hard on him lately. He’s in the civil engineering department and he deals with new construction. Local contractors depend a lot on the base.”
Burns said she moved to Portales when she was six years old because her father, Charlie Horn, was stationed in Clovis. Burns said she and her husband have been living in Portales for most of their lives.
“We knew there was a chance (CAFB would be on the list),” Burns said. “Like most people, I was surprised. I grew up here. We (Horn and his family) moved here because of the base in 1957.”
Burns said her father retired from the military, stayed in Portales and has had businesses such as a surplus store and car dealership.
With 614 civilian employees, Cannon is the second largest employer in the Portales/Clovis micropolitan area, according to the City of Portales’ comprehensive report. The top employer, ENMU, includes 696 employees, but there are students who attend ENMU from CAFB or are family members of those stationed at CAFB.
“We’re disappointed,” ENMU President Steven Gamble said. “Besides the obvious impact on the economy and the loss of a lot of good people to our community, we will see a decline in enrollment. How much, we don’t know.
“Throughout the years Eastern has enrolled and graduated a large number of excellent students who had close ties to Cannon Air Force Base.”
Yantie Love, a Portales barber, estimates that CAFB makes up 25 percent of her business.
“Anybody that loses a base is devastated for a while,” Love said. “Look what happened at Roswell. It took them a while to recover.”
The announcement of recommendation for closure comes with CAFB going through the process of airspace expansion. The proposed expansion would take place over land that Love owns, and she said the increase in sonic booms would disturb her horses. She’d rather have that inconvenience than the alternative of closure.
“I just hope we do not lose our base,” Love said. “We would lose a lot of good people.”
Jack Buzard, who lives north of Floyd, isn’t sure that the base will be removed from the BRAC list.
“If anybody can save it, (U.S. Sen.) Pete Domenici can,” Buzard said. “I don’t know if anybody can.”
Kevin Robbins, who is slated to take over as commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 9515 in Portales in July, said that more than half of the members they recruit have ties to Cannon.
Of those members, Robbins said, most are declining to say if the recommendation is right or wrong.
“It’s a matter of surprise,” Robbins said. “However, it’s guarded surprise. As we’re all veterans here … we do also understand orders as they are … and active duty military have to comply with what is ordered.”
Robbins assumes that if Cannon is closed, current members of Post No. 9515 will join another post — members would be moved to Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque and other bases in Wisconsin, South Dakota, Maryland, Nevada and Utah. Locally, Cannon’s closure would negatively influence the post’s community efforts, Robbins said.
Even before the list was released, the cities of Clovis and Portales had committed $300,000 for lobbying purposes in the event that CAFB was on the list.
Robbins said that during that round of BRAC, about 15 percent of bases recommended for closure were eventually removed from the list.
“I don’t think you can technically compare one BRAC committee to another,” Robbins said. “(but) we’re optimistic that number may be a little bit higher because we are in the middle of an armed conflict.”
Portales residents remain hopeful that Robbins’ outlook becomes reality.
“There’s always hope,” Burns said. “There’s hope to be optimistic.”
PNT Managing Editor Kevin Wilson contributed to this report.