Base supporters take fight to Washington

By David Irvin: Freedom Newspapers

The push to save Cannon Air Force Base moved to Washington this week, as community leaders and paid consultants presented their case to save the air base.
Originally scheduled for one hour, the Wednesday meeting with the Base Realignment and Closure staff lasted for more than two hours, said Committee of Fifty member Randy Harris. In that time, the group was able to present a 78-page document.
“I was very pleased to see a Commission staff that is focused on analyzing the Department of Defense’s recommendations objectively and independently,” Harris said. “In no way have they said, ‘We are just going to be a rubber stamp.’”
He said the BRAC staff does a lot of the footwork and analysis for the BRAC Commission.
After Cannon was placed on the Pentagon’s closure list May 13, the city of Clovis and the state pledged money to hire consulting firms to help retain Cannon. Two of those firms — DLA Piper and Hyjek & Fix, Inc. — were also at Wednesday’s meeting, Harris said.
The group argued the decision to close Cannon was based on a bad formula.
“We showed that using the military value score based on accurate data” puts Cannon as one of the country’s top three Air Force installations, Harris said. The Pentagon’s current evaluation puts Cannon behind 49 other installations, he said.
“There’s so much data, so many formulas and crunching of numbers, that it’s easy for these things to be wrong,” he said. “So that’s what our team has to do … go through and show where there were inconsistencies or incorrect data.”
For instance, Harris said, the DoD only counted the cost savings of removing staff from bases closed, and ignored the cost of absorbing personnel at other facilities, Harris said.
They also argued that encroachment was not weighted highly enough in the formula; that the Air Force should take the New Mexico Training Range Initiative into consideration; and the force structure plan from the Pentagon is flawed.
“Their overall basing structure will not take care of the young men and women (in the Air Force),” Harris said, adding Air Force personnel will have to spend more than half of their careers overseas with the current force structure from the Pentagon.
Gov. Bill Richardson also met with BRAC officials Wednesday, according to his press office.
Accompanied by Hanson Scott, director of the office for military base planning and support, Richardson met with BRAC Commissioner and former Secretary of Transportation Sam Skinner. Later Wednesday, he traveled to Pensacola, Fla., to meet with Commissioner Adm. Harold Gehman.
“Face-to-face meetings with each commissioner are critical to our overall efforts to overturn the Pentagon’s decision to close Cannon Air Force Base,” Richardson said.
Richardson is set to meet today with Commissioner Gen. James Hill in Miami, according to the press release.
The state’s congressional delegation has also been active this week. Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., each had representatives at the meeting with BRAC staff Wednesday morning, Harris said.
Late Tuesday, Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., met with BRAC Commissioner Sue Ellen Turner and urged her to reverse the Pentagon’s recommendation to close Cannon, according to a press release from his office.
“The clock is quickly ticking for us to make the case for keeping Cannon to the BRAC Commission,” Udall said. “Commissioner Turner was not only asking good questions, she was asking the right questions. I reminded her that no other community in the country would be as economically harmed as eastern New Mexico if Cannon were to leave.”
That economic impact has been estimated by the Pentagon at more than $200 million annually.