By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
The 27th Fighter Wing at Cannon Air Force Base will not sit idle waiting to be decommissioned, according to the base’s commander.
Col. Scott West said the 27th Wing still must focus on training and missions as the base transitions in the next year from serving the 27th Fighter Wing to the 16th Special Operations Wing.
He pointed out Cannon still has 315 service members deployed around the globe and the fighter wing is still committed to two cycles of deployment in the future — one scheduled for September and the other in the summe’r 2007.
“We’re still important, we’re still a part of our nation’s arsenal,” West said Tuesday during a regular meeting of the New Mexico Military Planning Committee at Eastern New Mexico University. “Our country’s at war.”
The Special Ops Wing is scheduled to take over the base by October 2007 while the 27th Fighter Wing’s F-16s will be dispersed to bases around the country.
West explained Cannon personnel fall into five groups: Operations, support, staff agencies, maintenance and medical. Of those five groups he said operations and maintenance stood to change the most drastically at the base, while the other three would likely change little.
West said the first step in the transition will be preparation of an environmental impact study for the switch from the 27th Fighter Wing to the 16th Special Operations Wing. He said that Special Ops has already begun the process with work on a document that outlines how Special Ops would use the base. The Air Force has proposed that the EIS process be completed by fall 2007.
Hanson Scott, director of NMMPC, said the environmental impact process would be done in concert with the Federal Aviation Administration as well as other authorities.
“Typically, environmental studies require that you do it all at once. Doing a study for taking the 27th Fighter Wing down and putting up the 16th Special Operations Wing. In this case, they may require to do them separately.”
John Pugh of the Roosevelt County Chamber of Commerce, asked if there were ways community members could help with the environmental impact study.
“The community can be an advocate, that’s what the community can do to help in the environmental study process,” Scott said. “There’s no easy answer. It’s a laborious process we have to do. It’s an ambitious schedule to get this done in 15 or 16 months.”
Clovis base supporter Randy Harris concurred, saying, one of the most important things community members can do is show support during U.S. Air Force-held public hearings.
In his talk, West also commended the local community for its unflagging support.
“Community support never wavered,” West said. “I appreciate that.”
West also emphasized the importance of the Melrose Bombing Range and its support of a variety of training exercises from numerous military groups, not just those from Cannon. He said expansions of the training corridors across the state will result in the Air Force being able to actually train supersonically in weapons deployment.
“Enabling us to train as we fight,” West said. “That’s important.”
West also talked about the Discover Home event for Cannon military personnel set for July 14 at The Landing. West said the goal of the event is to show personnel what places they can visit, shop and enjoy within a six-hour radius. West sent out invitations to Portales and Clovis business owners and the plan is to have 300 vendors at the event.
PNT staff writer Tony Parra contributed to this report.