Blog from Cannon: Special Ops activated

By Karl Terry: Freedom New Mexico

Editor’s note: Freedom New Mexico’s Karl Terry is blogging live from Cannon Air Force Base this morning. He will also answer questions posted below in the comments section.

• • •

The 27th Fighter Wing passed into history and the 27th Special Operations Wing was born today at Cannon Air Force Base.

Col. Scott West relinquished command of the 27th Fighter Wing during ceremonies this morning.

Immediately following his passing of the wing’s colors, Lt. Gen. Michael Wooley, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, activated the 27th Special Operations Wing and installed Col. Timothy Leahy as its commander.

As Leahy returned his first salute to airmen assembled, the crowd of more than 500 broke into a long round of applause.

In his remarks, Wooley told community leaders he was proud to be flying on their wing.

“I’m here to reassure you the history does not end today, it will carry on in new chapters,” Wooley said.

“I assure you the 27th Special Operations Wing, like the 27th Fighter Wing before us, will be good neighbors,” Leahy said.

• • •

Here’s a press release from New Mexico lawmakers, welcoming Air Force Special Operations to Cannon:

A united New Mexico congressional delegation today welcomed the Air Force Special Operations Command as it officially assumed command of Cannon Air Force Base at Clovis.

U.S. Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, and Representatives Tom Udall, Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce, joined local officials for a change of command ceremony during which AFSOC began its administration of the Curry County military base. The event marked the culmination of an extended effort involving the delegation to save Cannon after it was targeted in the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process.

Members of the delegation on Monday also renewed their commitment to work in Congress to provide AFSOC with the resources to fully support the new 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon.  It is expected that Cannon will eventually house the AC-130 Gunship, MC-130 Combat Talons and Combat Shadow aircraft, and the CV-22 Osprey, as well as other AFSOC assets.

• “This is the start of a long and beautiful relationship between Cannon and Special Operations, one that will bring Cannon more people, more aircraft, and more visibility within the Defense Department,” said Domenici, who serves on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.  “We are committed to doing what’s needed to fully stand up this Special Operations Wing. These airmen deserve the best bases, training capabilities and communities, and I know that they will have that at Cannon.”

• “Today marks the official beginning of what I hope will be a very long association between AFSOC and Cannon Air Force Base.  I join the people of Clovis and Portales–and our entire state–in welcoming AFSOC to New Mexico,” Bingaman said. 

• “The formal change in command marks the next chapter in the proud history of Cannon Air Force Base,” said Udall, a member of the House Appropriations Committee whose district includes Cannon. “Though the battle streamers and flag of the 27th Fighter Wing have been retired, we will always recall with great pride the impeccable caliber and history of the men and women of served this unit with distinction.  As we begin the new mission of the AFSOC 27th Special Operations Wing, we look forward to the same tradition of excellence, welcome the soldiers who will call New Mexico home and congratulate the entire Cannon community on its successful two-year mission to bring about a promising new future for the base.”

• “Special Operations is a great fit for New Mexico and it’s my pleasure today to welcome this new mission and new friends to Cannon,” said Wilson. “When you look at the training opportunities with New Mexico’s weather, terrain, and air space you cannot find a better place to train for missions in our world’s current global hotspots.  Air Force Special Operations Command and specifically the 27th Special Operations Wing will be a key asset in fighting terrorism.” 

• “I would like to commend Cannon AFB and all the dedicated men and women as they begin this new mission. Day after day, their hard work helps to ensure America’s safety both here in the Homeland and for our forces overseas. I look forward to working with Cannon officials in the future and I wish them the best of luck to continue in their tradition of success,” Pearce said.

The House and Senate are currently working to finalize a FY2008 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill (HR.2642) that includes just over $10 million to facilitate the AFSOC transition at Cannon.  This includes $7.5 million to construct an MC-130 Flight Simulator Facility, and $1.7 million to alter an existing hangar to accommodate C-130s.  At the request of Domenici and Bingaman, the Senate bill includes an additional $855,000 for planning and design work on a $31.5 million hangar project needed to support AFSOC aircraft. 

Cannon could also be affected by aircraft procurement funding included in the FY2008 Defense Appropriations Bill, including $238 million for Special Operations Forces to modify CV-22s.

Late last year, the delegation pressed the Pentagon to release $13.2 million in FY2006 military construction funding which they secured to build a modern fuel storage and distribution system at Cannon.  This push followed the lawmakers’ successful effort to have the Defense Department free another $9.5 million in FY2005 funding to construct a consolidated airmen’s center at Cannon that will include a dining hall, postal center, laundry exchange, and other facilities.

• • •

An Air Force band played at the mouth of a hangar as airmen in dress uniform with shiny black shoes stood in formation inside.

On the tarmac outside, a CV-22 Osprey was directly behind the stage.

Grandstands of press and community members were along the back of the hangar. Dignitaries in chairs were on each side of the formation.

The change of command ceremonies were set to begin.

• • •

I asked a crew member of the CV-22 Osprey if the movie (and toy) “Transformers” took its inspiration from the Osprey or if it was the other way around.

His answer was a little bit of both.

He noted the aircraft is seen at the first of the movie. The crew agrees it’s the “neatest” aircraft in the military, he said.

The Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft that can hover and take off like a helicopter. It can fly twice as fast as most helicopters (300 mph).

The crew said it can carry up to 24 troops. Usually it will be used for inserting or extracting teams of five to eight behind enemy lines for covert missions. Often they will take motorcycles or ATVs with them.

It’s not operational yet in the Air Force. Eventually two squadrons of eight to 10 aircraft are expected at Cannon.

• • •

As we toured the lineup of new aircraft coming to Cannon with Air Force Special Operations Command, a C-130 took off, banked west and flew back over the flightline.

It’s a sight we’ll apparently get used to in the future.

Various configurations of that aircraft will be based here.

The C-130s that appear to lumber through the skies compared to the F-16s will be a big change.

But this day’s all about change.

• • •

As we drove what everyone in Portales knows as the Air Base Highway, the sunrise broke over the sandhills.

I reflected about what might have happened had Cannon Air Force Base been closed during the Base Realignment and Closure process. I guess we would have soon been referring to the road as the old Air Base Highway.

I’m glad that won’t be the case.

Instead, the sun is rising on a new day for the base.

• • •

The change of command from the 27th Fighter Wing to what will be known as the 27th Special Forces Wing is a momentous occasion. We in Clovis and Portales will be saying goodbye to the jets we’ve become so accustomed to seeing in our skies for the last half century. The prospect of new aircraft and new personnel is exciting, though. The changes will bring us to the forefront of the war on terrorism — perhaps one of the biggest challenges our country has ever faced.

As the ceremonies continue through the day I’ll try to tell you what’s going on and what I’m doing. If you have any questions or comments, post them below. They’ll be relayed to me on the flightline.

•••

A variety of dignitaries were on hand for the change of command ceremony today at Cannon Air Force Base. The state’s congressional delegation, including Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, Congresswoman Heather Wilson and Congressment Steve Pearce and Tom Udall were all in attendance as was the grandson of General John K. Cannon, who the base was named for.

•••

The C-130 aircraft eventually coming to Cannon will do a variety of jobs and come in a variety of versions and configurations. One of those is as a gunship.

A gunship on display today was equipped with the trusty Howitzer cannon of World War II fame. A crewman pointed out that while it might seem low-tech and old fashioned, the old gun firing a 32 to 44 pound shell can still rock someone’s world on the ground below where they’re laying down fire.

He said they can shoot one round about every three seconds in the manually fed cannon — a miraculous feat of training considering that the crew is often working at night in sub-zero temperatures.

Other C-130 gunships have a variety of weapons from fast-firing 25 mm gatling guns to 40 and 105 mm cannons.