Base planners say protecting state’s bases not limited to BRAC rounds

By Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspapers

The importance of protecting not just Cannon Air Force Base, but all New Mexico military bases was underscored Friday at a meeting of the New Mexico Military Base Planning Commission.

The cumulative economic impact of even a gradual withdrawal of jets at Cannon Air Force Base sans a new mission could add up to more than $600 million, according to Keystone International data analyst Erin Ward.

The multimillion-dollar figure projection is a reminder of what is at stake in any New Mexico community near a base, not just in Clovis, said Cannon advocate and base planning Commissioner Randy Harris. “We must continue to have a group from the state that protects our bases,” Harris said.

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, also a base planning commissioner, agreed.

“The base planning commission needs to live on for the sake of all of New Mexico,” Denish said. The job of protecting the state’s bases should extend beyond Base Realignment and Closure rounds, Denish said.

Director of the New Mexico Military Base Planning Commission Hanson Scott said he will request $300,000 in additional state funding to support Cannon’s base finding mission and all of New Mexico military bases.

A federal commission voted to inactivate Cannon’s F-16 fighter wing and keep the base in enclave status until Dec. 31, 2009, pending the base finding a new mission. Congress has until November 7 to act on commission recommendations.

Legislation that would keep Cannon’s assets in place until a new mission is found awaits House approval.

Base planning Commissioner and retired army Lt. Gen. Ed Baca recommended Cannon advocates establish a joint training and homeland defense mission with Fort Bliss. “So many things point to it making logical sense,” Baca said.

Eighty percent of Fort Bliss training is already done on New Mexico lands, according to base planning Commissioner Ed Brabson of Alamogordo. Brabson said 2005 BRAC decrees and an influx of officers from overseas stations will bring about 20,000 new troops to the Texas base.

All of Fort Bliss ranges are located in New Mexico, according to Fort Bliss public affairs officer Luke Elliott. In the next five to seven years, the base will receive approximately 22,000 troops due to BRAC personnel gains and brigade combat team pull-outs from Germany, Elliott said.

Cannon and other New Mexico bases could easily alleviate the burden of a sudden Fort Bliss population surge, Brabson said. Without outside aid, Brabson said the surge could overwhelm existing Fort Bliss infrastructure.

Fort Bliss does plan, however, on infrastructure additions, according to Elliott.

Inspired by Roving Sands joint training missions that have already taken place at Cannon Air Force Base, the Fort Bliss scenario will be discussed further at future base planning meetings, officials said.

Though the Keystone International contract has been extended, contracts with consultants DLA Piper and Hjek and Fix Inc. have expired, according to base planning officials.

The next base planning meeting is tentatively scheduled for the first or second week of December in Albuquerque, commissioners said.