Officials optimistic after visit with Cannon evaluation group

Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspaper

Matters of military value were dwarfed by matters of a more personal nature Thursday at a meeting between Clovis and Portales officials and the Air Force team sent to gather data about Cannon Air Force Base and surrounding communities.

The focus was on people.

“Personally, I think we will be able to find something that will work here (at Cannon) because of how wide we are casting the net. We will work like the dickens to find the answer for Cannon,” said Brig. Gen. Ron Ladnier, leader of a group of 12 individuals tasked with evaluating the base and its possible new missions.

After touring Clovis Municipal Schools and the Plains Regional Medical Center, the team assembled at Clovis Community College to hear more about the real estate, infrastructure, and educational assets of Clovis and Portales. Those assets are chiefly people, stressed Cannon advocate Randy Harris.

“This community has worked hard to do what we have to for the military. I don’t know how you can quantify that,” Harris said, showering his overview of Cannon’s military value with examples — such as county gifts of land to the base — of a region long supportive of the base.

But the Air Force team isn’t yet ready to pull Clovis and Portales from a state of limbo regarding the future of Cannon. By decree of a federal commission, the base will close in 2010 if the Department of Defense does not find it a new mission. Ladnier said his team’s three-day visit only grazed “the tip of the iceberg.”

He said his team — a mixture of military personnel and hired civilians — will contact local educational and governmental leaders in the near future to better assess the capacities of the community and the base.

“We will leave no stone unturned,” Ladnier said, promising a thorough, if not speedy, assessment of the base.

Ladnier said information about Cannon would be made available to government agencies in need of space. He also acknowledged the value of joint training operations and the challenges facing a shrinking Air Force equipped with aging equipment.

“A greater investment in training,” Ladnier said, is the answer to the Air Force personnel squeeze and its antiquated equipment.

Ladnier did not specify that Cannon would be used to house a joint-training mission.

However, in a meeting with the Clovis News Journal following the college briefing, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said it is more likely Cannon will be home to a military operation than to a non-military, governmental operation.

“I came away from the little bit I heard today from the general somewhat optimistic. I think they are trying to find some other military missions for this facility and for this base and I think they will make a very good effort to do that,” Bingaman said.