Rancher opinions vary on BRAC

By Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspapers

Some eastern New Mexico ranchers are long-standing critics of Cannon Air Force Base. When Cannon announced plans in January to expand its training air space, a handful of ranchers were vocal in their opposition at a meeting with Air Force officials at Eastern New Mexico University.
Anticipating some may raise their voices against Cannon again in a vulnerable time — coming months will determine if Cannon will be spared from the Base Realignment and Closure Commission’s list — Sen. Pete Domenici, R.-N.M., has encouraged landowners to be sensitive to the greater needs of the community.
“We’ve asked ranchers to be good neighbors and met with landowners to have discussions, so they know what their positions can be,” Domenici said at a Friday press conference concerning BRAC.
Glenda Armstrong of the Cornerstone Ranch, located approximately 60 miles west of Cannon Air Force Base in Fort Sumner, declined to elaborate on the details of a discussion she had in April with Domenici’s office.
“I had a lengthy discussion with Domenici’s office. I will say that I was not not instructed to talk about it (Cannon’s slated closure),” said Armstrong, a fourth-generation rancher who, depending on the season, cares for 700 to 800 head of cattle.
Located on the outskirts of Cannon’s flying range, some local ranchers said they feel the affects of jets daily — literally, as windows rattle and phone calls are interrupted when F-16s fly overhead.
“One house almost totally collapsed,” Armstrong said, referring to a flight she said came from Kirtland Air Force Base that jeopardized a nearby home. “Its metal frame buckled and all the windows broke.”
Another Fort Sumner rancher, A.S. “Tex” Elliott, who owns 28,000 acres, has filed nine damage claims with the Air Force in as many years. Elliott’s list of grievances with the base is long. Among the most simple is a complaint about noise.
“We would all like to sit on our porch without interference of having the jets pass by before we can talk to each other … I’ve had to call Cannon every year to remind them not to fly over when my calves are weaning … They run into fences trying to get back to their mamas,” Elliott said.
“I wouldn’t personally care a bit if the base closed,” Elliott said, expressing concern, however, for retired military friends who rely on the base for medical services.
Despite noise complaints, Elliott and Armstrong said they do not dislike the base or the Air Force. In fact, Armstrong would rather see Cannon stay than deal with a possibly less accommodating neighbor.
“I support Cannon,” said Armstrong, who added that Cannon officials have been responsive whenever she’s complained.
Armstrong said word reached her of Cannon’s slated closure at a livestock convention in April. Armstrong said she believed then that it was only a rumor.
“I was told that Cannon had outlived its usefulness,” Armstrong said. “It’s (Cannon) not without problems, but we’ve all got to do our part to protect it.”