Planning team stresses state’s future

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom Newspapers

New Mexico Military Base Planning Commission members said it’s critical to impress upon lawmakers the military’s importance to the future of the state.

Randy Harris, Clovis businessman and committee vice chair, proposed during Tuesday’s quarterly meeting at Clovis Community College the committee sponsor a junket for key state legislators in recognition of the Air Force’s 60th anniversary.

The trip would involve flying VIPs on military planes to New Mexico military installations such as Holloman and Kirtland Air Force bases and White Sands Missile Range for briefings, and ending at Cannon Air Force Base, where they would be treated to dinner. The ensuing morning, lawmakers could witness the changing of the flag from the 27th Fighter Wing to the 16th Special Operations Wing, Harris proposed.

The 16th SOW is scheduled to take over the base Oct. 1.

The suggestion melded with supporting philosophies from other committee members.

“I think we need to continue to remind our legislators of the importance of this committee,” member Marshall Stinnett said earlier.

Harris said, “If Cannon, Holloman and White Sands are going to survive the next BRAC, we do need to plant the seeds for the future. I think it’s an opportunity for us to begin a statewide (awareness of the value of military bases).”

Committee members also heard a presentation by Col. Jeff McDaniels of Cannon regarding the current priorities of the Air Force.

McDaniels, 27th Fighter Wing Operations Group Commander, said financial concerns are a driving force in military planning in the current environment.

“We’re hurting for money as most federal agencies are,” he said, describing an aging fleet of aircraft and rising costs of maintaining troops and equipment.

McDaniels also reported the transition at Cannon is progressing smoothly and officials are in the process of drafting the final version of the Environmental Impact Statement for Cannon’s new mission, which should be released in September.

One of the two remaining fighter squadrons, the 524th, will leave Cannon by September and the last, the 522 Fighter Squadron, will leave by March 2008, he said.

He stressed change has been a part of Cannon’s history.

“We’re getting ready to go through another phase of transition. It’s nothing new,” he said.

“We’ve been here for over 50 years. It’s nothing new to us; we can do it. We’ll keep going without (missing) a beat.”