The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Decade in review: Community rallied to keep base

 


File photo Clovis residents cheer and wave flags during the Operation Kept Cannon celebration at the Clovis Civic Center in 2006.

Cannon Air Force Base had a wild ride in the past few years, as its near closure and new mission became the most far-reaching story of the decade in Roosevelt and Curry counties.

On May 13, 2005, the Department of Defense recommended Cannon relocate its F-16 fighter jets and 4,000 Air Force personnel and civilians as part of efforts to reduce the nation’s military installations by 25 percent.

The economic hit was estimated at more than $100 million annually. About 30 percent of the region’s economy was said to be tied directly to Cannon, which first hosted military bombers in 1943.

Area residents quickly organized a “Keep Cannon” drive, engaging state and federal politicians, but on Aug. 26, 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission agreed with DOD’s recommendation to close Cannon — unless a new mission could be found by 2010.

“We have no bad bases. We just have too many bases,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told BRAC.

U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, U.S. Rep. Tom Udall and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, spurred by area residents who wrote hundreds of letters in support of Cannon, went about finding a new mission.

And on June 20, 2006, Department of Defense officials announced Special Operations would begin occupying Cannon in about a year.

“My insides are doing somersaults,” said Ernie Kos, Clovis-Curry County Chamber of Commerce executive director, when the announcement came.

Truck driver Robert Willis said his reaction to the news surprised him. The Vietnam veteran said his hands shook and his vision became blurred with tears.

“I actually pulled my truck to the side of the road and bowed my head and thanked God because the people of Clovis deserve this,” he said.

The first airmen from the 73rd Special Operations Squadron began arriving in the fall of 2007. By the end of 2009, officials said personnel numbered more than 4,000 and continued growth was expected, resulting in a new problem — not enough affordable housing.

So that’s the first issue the area will have to address in the opening months of the new millennium’s second decade.

 
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