Cautious optimism takes hold with local base supporters

By David Stevens: FNNM Editor

Randy Harris said he has every reason to believe Base Closure and Realignment commissioners will spare Cannon Air Force Base when they hold hearings this week in Washington.

“When the commissioners were here (at Cannon in June), they saw unencroached air space, an unencroached (bombing) range, the ability to expand,” said Harris, one of eastern New Mexico’s leaders in the fight to keep Cannon. “They saw not near enough savings to justify the costs of what closing Cannon would do to this community. … These are good people. Intelligent people. That’s what makes me comfortable.”

But Harris’ optimism is tempered with caution.

“You are always concerned with the unknown. That’s just a natural,” he said.

“It’s kinda like a farmer. He’s got a beautiful crop, it’s all going just right, but it’s not over until the crop’s in the bin. It’s not over for Cannon until we get five or more votes. … I just can’t imagine there not being five votes.”

Five of the nine BRAC commissioners must agree before a military base can be removed from the Pentagon’s recommended closure list.

Cannon and 32 other major installations were targeted for closure on May 13.

Harris and Chad Lydick, both members of the Committee of Fifty, a Cannon support group, plan to be at the hearings on Thursday and/or Friday when the Air Force will be discussed.

Harris said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson also plans to attend the hearings along with Hanson Scott, director of New Mexico’s office for military base planning and support.
But most local Cannon supporters will be close to home when the base’s fate is determined.

Clovis Mayor David Lansford said he plans to work a normal schedule at his pharmacy, though he is prepared for interruptions.

“My dad, he’s retired and he’ll be at home watching on television. I’m sure he’ll call me and I’ll find out instantaneously,” Lansford said.

Lansford said he feels “pretty confident” about Cannon’s future.

“The things we’ve pointed out with regard to Cannon’s assets and potential … is definitely of enough significance to warrant voting it off the list,” he said.

“I think Cannon Air Force Base, based on my assessment, will be suitable for many, many future missions, whatever those missions may be.”

Marshall Stinnett, president of Eastern New Mexico University’s board of regents and a member of the state’s Military Base Planning Commission also expressed confidence that Cannon will survive.

“I feel good about it. I think the Air Force’s justification for closing Cannon was so flawed I don’t think they have much ground to stand on,” he said.

“When you rate Kirtland (Air Force Base in Albuquerque) as a better fighter base than Cannon, and they’re using a civilian runway, then (the data is flawed.)”

Meanwhile at Cannon, it’s business as usual.

“We’ll have the TV on here in public affairs to see how things unfold,” said Capt. Andre Kok, chief of Cannon’s public affairs office.

“But if you come out to the base, May 15 wasn’t any different than May 12. And Aug. 29 is not going to be any different than on Aug. 23. We’re doing our normal operations, which is flying F-16s.”