Clovis citizens’ eyes focused on BRAC hearing

Marlena Hartz : Freedom Newspapers

Clovis was silent as federal deliberations over Cannon Air Force Base trudged into the early afternoon Friday. Traffic seem to crawl and faces turned blank as the town awaited the fate of its base, the only link to the Virginia proceedings, for many, television.

“This is like Super Bowl Sunday,” said Mike Jouett, 48, a Clovis resident and firefighter. “You should have been here an hour ago. It was like a ghost town.”

Schools spattered across the district interrupted lesson plans, military men in fatigues stayed indoors, and residents popped in and out of the Clovis-Carver Public Library in an effort to stay abreast of Cannon developments aired on C-Span 2.

What began as nervous anticipation, grew, during initial Cannon deliberations, into tangible joy, in the form of hoots, raised fists, and fierce clapping. But it all ended with blank faces and confusion after the BRAC panel voted to keep Cannon open in a paralyzed form.

“This may inject life into the situation, but it seems like new weapons systems always go to big bases, with big congressional delegations, with lots of money. The system has gotten so out of line that the American public don’t know what to expect,” said Stephen R. Cohen, a Clovis resident at the library during Friday’s proceedings.

“This could be a double-edge sword,” said County Commissioner Ed Perales. However, like most residents and local leaders, he lingered on the brighter side of the decision.

“How could you say the glass is half full when you keep pouring water into the glass? Look at Clovis in the last three years — the railroad grew, the community college grew, the cheese plant came,” Perales said, confident that a new mission would be found for Cannon.

Col. John Posner, commander of Cannon’s 27th Fighter Wing, acknowledged the toll the save-Cannon effort has taken on the area.

“We are aware that his has been a trying time for our friends and neighbors in Clovis, Portales and the surrounding area,” Posner said in an afternoon press conference at Cannon Air Force Base.

The marks of that trying time could be seen on the face of Clovis City Commissioner Cathy Haynes. She removed her glasses, revealing watery, tired eyes during the halt in the BRAC proceedings.

“I am like (BRAC Commissioner Sue E.) Turner. When I stand up on that tower at Cannon, all I see is clear skies that go on forever. We all know that Cannon has great possibilities, but convincing the Air Force and the DoD, that’s the hard part,” Haynes said.

The commissioner, nonetheless, quickly praised the nine-member federal panel.

“It looks like they have the concern of the nation at heart,” she said.

Committee of Fifty lobbyist and Washington Committee member Ted Hartley frequently changed positions as he watched deliberation proceedings, moving from his chair to pace across the floor of the library’s North Annex, his hands often folding and unfolding.

“I am distressed and concerned,” said Hartley after the panel broke for lunch to consider Cannon further. “I have served on the Committee of Fifty for over 20 years and I believe that there is a place for us… Sometimes,” Hartley, also a 9th Judicial Clovis judge, quipped “a judge just needs to make a decision for the sake of the community.”

Clovis City Commissioner Fred Van Soelen just nodded his head soberly when asked to expound on the nebulous fate of Cannon.

“This is a military town. We want a military base to be here. This just gives us a chance to marshal our forces,” he said.