Florida residents say Special Ops a class act

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom Newspapers

Residents of the Florida town now home to Air Force Special Operations refer to the unit as good neighbors, and said Clovis will receive an asset in the 16th Special Operations squadron.

A town of roughly 20,000 people, Fort Walton Beach is a coastal community located on the Florida panhandle and has an economy based on military and tourism, according to the 2000 census.

Co-existing with the military is a positive thing for community members who said air traffic at the base is not disruptive, and while they are aware of aircraft going to and from the base, the noise is easily dismissed.

Clovis residents will not notice a dramatic change between the F-16 fighter planes and the new mission when it comes to noise and quality of life, according to Matt Durham, Air Force Special Operations Command spokesperson.
If anything, Durham said, the aircraft used by Special Operations, primarily propeller driven, are significantly quieter than fighter jets.

An environmental impact report will be drafted during AFSOC’s transition process, Durham said. The report will determine where and when the planes fly in the interest of minimizing the effect on the local population, Durham said.

The Department of Defense announced Tuesday the 16th Special Operations Squadron will begin relocating from Hurlburt Field in Fort Walton Beach to Cannon Air Force Base, replacing the 27th Fighter Wing. The transition is expected to begin immediately, with Special Operations taking command of Cannon in October 2007, according to Air Force officials.

The new occupants of Cannon will bring with them AC-130 and MC-130 gunships, helicopters and the CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor, which takes off and lands like a helicopter and flies like an airplane. The new mission will place an emphasis on night flying and training, Rep. Steve Pearce R-N.M., said Tuesday.

Kathy Hicks, who works at a Christian preschool a couple of miles from Hurlburt Field Air Force Base, said activity at the base is noticeable but not a quality-of-life issue. Born into a military family, Hicks said she is familiar with a variety of air bases, and Cannon will experience a reduction in noise pollution when it welcomes AFSOC.

After hosting a fighter wing for years, Clovis residents will hardly notice the aircraft used by the 16th Special Operations group, she said.

Even the night flying seems to blend into the background and rarely attracts attention, according to Hicks.

“If you live by the base, you hear them, but it’s no big thing,” she said. “It’s not anything that’s uncomfortable.”
She described Hurlburt Field as wonderful, and said if it weren’t for the base she doesn’t believe there would be a town.

Beverly Capozzo owns a storage unit and produce stand within two miles of Hurlburt Field, and said she hears aircraft and occasionally sees troops run out of the woods and across the highway toward the beach during training. Although there is an explosives test range behind her home that causes her trailer to tremble and shake, she said she’s still glad to have them there.

“I think it’s what makes the town so good,” she said. “In any town you get a mix of people. But I would say that being near the military, you got a lot more good to talk about.”

In a town that considers itself a military town, residents enjoy the relationship they have with the military, according to local business owner Richard Fallon. Having lived in the area for more than 30 years, Fallon runs a computer store about four miles from Hurlburt Field.

“(They’re) a high class of folks that are well educated and tend to be very professional,” he said.

Fallon believes Hurlburt Field has been conscientious toward nearby civilian populations by keeping night flights over populated areas to a minimum.

“For a military community we have very few problems,” he said. “You hear them (flying) but they don’t fly in the middle of the night over housing areas. I have never really noticed much in the way of complaints — a lot of people say it’s the sound of freedom,” he said.

Fallon predicted Clovis, too, will enjoy its newfound relationship with the special forces.

“There’s a lot of pride in being able to have people you can call your friends that are part of this organization. There’s a lot of respect for them and that goes across the board,” Fallon said.