Year in review: Base normalizes in 2010

Kevin Wilson

As far as years go for Cannon Air Force Base, 2010 was a pretty abnormal year, in that it was actually pretty normal.

With no threats to close the base like five years ago, no enclave status like four years ago, no new mission like three years ago and smaller squadron movements than the previous two years, 2010 could be considered a pretty run of the mill year.

However, the base is on the cusp of a few new developments, including low altitude training and the finalization of a joint use land study intended to help the base grow while reducing negative impact to civilian neighbors.

The base, part of Air Force Special Operations Command, wants to do low-altitude exercises over a proposed 94,000-square-mile area in order to train its MC-130 and CV-22 crews. The training would include three flights, or sorties, a day at 200 feet and higher.

Though supported in Curry County, it has not gained overwhelming support in the counties where training would take place. The Taos, Santa Fe and Rio Arriba county commissions, along with the city councils of Las Vegas and Taos, have adopted resolutions opposing the plan.

Col. Stephen Clark, the base commander, said concerns may come from a lack of understanding, and he wants to communicate that the goal of training is to not make a commotion.

“By design, we avoid where people are,” Clark said. “So we will look for cultural lighting, we will look for buildings, we will look for the farmhouse in the prairie or up in the mountains and avoid flying over it because if you hear me, you detected me. We will automatically by training avoid those areas.”

Another issue that goes into 2011 is the Joint Land Use Study. The study creates a series of recommendations for county commissions to help facilitate the base’s growth while protecting property rights.

A source of contention has been County Road R, however. The road connects N.M. 467 and 60/84 and could save a commuter six miles. Farmers and ranchers said they make numerous trips on that road and the base needs to find a better option to address safety concerns.

Clark has said the road is adjacent to base housing, a runway and an ammunition upload, and could be a point of attack for those who would do harm to the base.

• Noteworthy promotions/nominations: Clark was nominated for his first star. If his nomination is confirmed by the Senate, he would be elevated to brigadier general, the first of four levels of general, the highest peace-time rank in the armed forces.

Chief Master Sgt. William H. Turner, Command Chief of the 27th Special Operations Wing, was selected as the next Command Chief Master Sergeant for Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The command has approximately 16,000 active-duty, reserve, Air National Guard and civilian professionals.

• Hornets return: Officially known as the 20th Special Operations Squadron, the Green Hornets rejoined the fight in January.

In a brief ceremony, Lt. Col. Matt Smith assumed command of the squadron, which started with an initial cadre of 12 men and women, including Smith, to operate the CV-22 Osprey.

The squadron, first activated in 1956 to perform traditional helicopter missions has been deployed to provide support for combat operations in Vietnam, Operation Desert Shield and has been used domestically in south Florida drug enforcement in 1993.

The 20th SOS was deactivated in Oct. 2008 at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

• Care(ful) package: Escorted by New Mexico State Police, a joint team of U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialists safely transported a World War II-era ordnance from Hobbs to Melrose Air Force Range on June 13.

Found the week prior in White City, the ordnance was transported to a field just outside the Western Heritage Museum in northern Hobbs to be considered for use as a museum artifact.

When it arrived June 11, the state police established a safety perimeter and tested the ordnance.

It was destroyed soon after its trip to the range near Melrose.

• The ugly: A boil water advisory was placed on the base’s system in April after levels of E. Coli were discovered. The advisory was lifted by the New Mexico Environmental Department five days later, following two consecutive water samplings that tested negative for E. Coli bacteria.

In July, an MQ-1 Predator turned off the runway and plowed through a fence. Nobody was injured and little crop damage was done by the $4.5 million unmanned aircraft, which unexpectedly lost communication link with ground control.