By Helena Rodriguez: PNT Staff Writer
In these days of fast e-mails which are only a click away, Kim Huffman said that nobody ever throws away hand-written letters.
According to Huffman, the community development director and executive director of the Roosevelt County Chamber of Commerce, a letter-writing campaign that is being launched by the City of Portales in support of Cannon Air Force Base just may be the personal touch needed to get the attention of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission.
The commission has been assigned the task of deciding which bases recommended by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will be closed. The list, which was released Friday, includes Cannon as a recommended base closing.
The City of Portales is requesting that each citizen do their part by writing a letter to the BRAC commission. Huffman said that letters in support of Cannon should not be mailed in bulk and should be handwritten. He said the letters should be mailed individually and he will be providing the names and addresses of people to mail them to directly when he gets them put together.
In response to an e-mail sent to all of the Portales schools on Tuesday, PHS Assistant Principal David VanWettering said that the PHS English department will encourage all students to write letters for extra credit before May 26, the final day of instruction.
Trina Valdez, director of federal programs for Portales schools, said that 118 students from kindergarten up to 12th grade come to the school by way of Cannon. Valdez said that total represents about 16 percent of the student population.
“They (students) don’t know economically what it will do, but they do know emotionally what it will do if their friends are not here,” said Robbie Crowley, head of the English department at PHS. “We will talk to them about the economics that it could do, too.”
Other schools in Portales and Clovis are also expected to participate in the letter-writing campaign, but Huffman said the campaign is meant to be a community effort, not just a student effort.
Diane Parker, who works with the school district’s business offices, said outgoing superintendent James Holloway has encouraged all Portales schools to participate in some way or another.
Parker, who is on the Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, said, “When we had a meeting on Tuesday, we discussed the different things Portales could do as a community to save Cannon.”
Suggestions included the letter-writing campaign, along with T-shirts, bumper stickers and other things.
VanWettering said the schools have talked about other ways, besides enrollment, in which the schools would be affected if Cannon were closed.
“Cannon has provided safety training for us and we’ve had some guest speakers from Cannon come to our schools,” he said.
Huffman said that he is coming up with the names and addresses of people involved with BRAC. He plans to provide people with fact sheets on types of things they can write about regarding Cannon and how it benefits the Clovis/Portales microplex.
Huffman said that Cannon is also vital to Eastern New Mexico University.
“There’s a lot of active duty military people that take night classes and lots of their spouses and kids,” Huffman said. “That number is probably even higher at Clovis Community College.”
Huffman said the commission also needs to know that Cannon is vital to the community in other ways besides economics.
“We have a support agreement with the Cannon Air Force Base Fire Department,” Huffman said. “When there is a dairy or grass fire, we call them. Their bomb-sniffings dogs come in handy and they’ve come in to provide drug education.”
According to Andre Kok, public affairs officers for the 27th Fighter Wing at CAFB, there are more than 4,000 active duty personnel and civilians at Cannon. This includes 270 officers, 3,200 enlisted airmen and more than 600 civilians.
Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega said he believes that any positive effort to save Cannon will have an impact, including the letter-writing campaign.
“When these letters start flooding into their offices,” Ortega said, “they will realize that people in eastern New Mexico do care about Cannon and want to do everything they can — young and old alike — to keep it in our community.”