Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspapers
Dressed in cowboy boots and blue jeans, a man from Clovis appeared on a doorstep to see the commander of the Air Force Special Operations Command, Lt. Gen. Michael Wooley.
His name was Randy Harris.
The story of his resolve to secure a mission for Cannon Air Force Base was told by Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M.
That kind of resolve — embodied by Harris, but practiced by a multitude — called the Air Force 16th Special Operations Wing to eastern New Mexico, according to members of the New Mexico congressional delegation and military dignitaries.
The leaders addressed a roomful of eastern New Mexico residents Saturday at the Clovis Civic Center.
Pentagon officials announced late last month the 16th Wing will assume ownership of Cannon in October 2007, sparing the base from closure as recommended by the Department of Defense in the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process.
“Stress reveals character,” Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M. said.
“A year ago, we could have put our heads down and accepted defeat,” he said.
“I have never been so proud of a group of people than I am now of Clovis and Portales. You never lost sight, not one of you.”
Expressions of gratitude and appreciation dominated the Saturday celebration, staged by the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce. Nearly a thousand people attended the event, and congressional delegates showered residents with praise for their support of the military.
“Any community affected by BRAC can be relatively certain of how its base will change — it will either close, stay open or be realigned. The (BRAC) commission threw you all a curveball,” the assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics, William Anderson, said.
“It all boiled down to one word — maybe.”
That maybe has been erased.
Anderson said the Air Force and the Department of Defense committed to search swiftly for a new Cannon mission. Their search ended after roughly 9 months.
Had the 16th Wing not discovered Cannon, about five times as much taxpayer money would have been spent building a new installation from the ground up for the 16th Wing, Anderson said.
But at the time the base was placed on the list, the Department of Defense could not have predicted the potential for Air Force Special Operations at Cannon, Anderson said.
“The reality is that over time the global war on terror became much more defined,” Anderson said.
Special Operations Forces are poised to increase by 15 percent, in accordance with a Department of Defense quadrennial review released in February. And the unconventional Air Force branch needed a western location, military officials said.
As painful as the process was for the community, the outcome could never had been reached had the base not been targeted for closure, he said.
Clovis, Portales, and Roosevelt and Curry counties pledged roughly $1 million to save Cannon from closure.
Greeted with riotous applause, Wooley distanced himself from military officials who testified that the military value of Cannon was low during the BRAC process. He lauded the installation’s airspace, ramp space and existing infrastructure.
“This will be a marriage made in heaven,” the Air Force Special Operations commander said.