Special Operations coming to Cannon

By Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspapers

The mission to save Cannon Air Force Base has been accomplished.

Cannon will soon become home to the Air Force Special Operations 16th Wing, New Mexico’s congressional delegation announced this morning.

The base is expected to expand in aircraft, and possibly in personnel, within the next two years, officials announced in a celebratory conference call.

“It will change rather dramatically …,” Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said during the conference.

Five types of aircraft will be stationed at the base west of Clovis: MC-130Hs, AC-130Us, CH-53s, CH-47s, and V-22s. The CH-47, and the CH-53, are helicopters. The V-22, or osprey, also operates like a helicopter.

The new mission will bring at least 22 more airplanes to the base, according to local officials. Typically, 200 Army personnel will also train with the 16th special operations wing during any given day, according to Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M.

It is likely Cannon will absorb “roughly three times as many” support personnel and crew members as a result of the mission change, Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M, said, though officials were cautious about the numbers. They said they expected to have more details within 10 days.

“(This mission) is very different than the one (Cannon) has had historically,” said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.
Special Operations training will be largely conducted at night, according to members of the congressional delegation. The F-16 jets currently stationed at Cannon conduct most training exercises during the day.

The transition of personnel, planes and missions will begin in October 2007, although some personnel and equipment shifts will begin immediately, officials said.

The bulk of Special Operations training is currently conducted at Hurlburt Field in the Florida Panhandle. But smaller commands are spread around the country, as well as overseas. The units specialize in unconventional warfare, psychological operations, special reconnaissance and other special operations areas, according to the Web site, www.globalsecurity.org.

“This is an historic, momentous occasion for New Mexico,” Gov. Bill Richardson said.

Officials said the Melrose Bombing Range attached to Cannon and the region’s resemblance to hot zones in the Middle East attracted the Air Force Special Operations Command to Cannon.

The Command had been looking for a western base as the result of heightened terrorism threats.
The military branch is expected to mushroom significantly in the coming years.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has said he envisions a growing role for forces that can function in small units, sometimes clandestinely, to hunt down and kill terrorists and to work with friendly foreign forces.

“This is a great fit for a mission in New Mexico,” Chairman of Operation Keep Cannon and staunch Cannon advocate Randy Harris said.

“(It) makes sense for a lot of reasons.”