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

Udall tours Cannon, talks military

 

July 7, 2017

Alisa Boswell

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, shakes hands with airmen after having lunch with them on Thursday following a tour of Cannon Air Force Base.

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE - U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, was at Cannon Air Force Base for two reasons on Thursday morning - to see the improvements being made from appropriations and to learn about the mission of the base.

Since 2012, $414 million has been appropriated to Cannon Air Force Base, Udall said.

"This is one of the premier bases in the country. I wanted to come here to see how much change had occurred from the appropriations that we've been working on in the defense subcommittee," he said. "What I was doing here was I was going to look at how the base has changed, how that money's been spent, and what it does to improve the lives of the airmen and women who serve here. It helps me see where they're headed, what they need, so that I can pay attention to that in Washington."

After spending the morning touring throughout the base and learning about what airmen do day-to-day, Col. Stewart Hammons, commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing, took Udall to the airmen cafeteria. The senator didn't hesitate to sit down at a table with several airmen from the 56th Intelligence Squadron to have a chat.

"While it was a surprise to have a senator sit down with airmen, it was a nice change of pace for us. It was nice to hear about the experiences of the senator and his interests in military/civilian relations, as well as his realm of responsibility," said Sr. Airman Nicolas Long.

"It helped put things into perspective as to how our federal government has a role in so many stateside operations and how he specifically is trying to improve things in the state of New Mexico."

Hammons said having Udall on base for half a day was rewarding.

"We had a unique opportunity to show him what Cannon has done over the last 10 years since (Air Force Special Operations) took over this base and all of the infrastructure projects that we've brought in and, most importantly, what the airmen do day in and day out here at Cannon to include some of our deployed and garrison operations," he said.

Udall also answered questions from The Eastern New Mexico News:

What makes you so passionate about the military?

We live in a very dangerous world; we need a strong, capable military, and we need to always be asking questions. That's why I like to eat lunch with the average folks here. I told them I wanted to have lunch with the airmen. They seem like they're very committed to their mission.

Do you feel like another round of base closures should take place?

I think that we should try to listen to the reasons coming from many of the administration. We've now had two administrations who have argued for (base realignment and closures). In the last four or five years, most of the time when I come and I talk about the things I want to see done, they say, we can do a lot more if you let us have a BRAC. That's the administration side.

I don't see any real interest in the Congress right now in going through a BRAC. And I hear that from my Republican colleagues, the people that I work with on the defense subcommittee and others.

We're (legislators) a little reluctant right now, and we're not convinced it's needed right now, so that's kind of where we are.

I feel pretty good about our three Air Force bases here (in New Mexico). I think we've seen major improvements. Holloman (Alamogordo) has just attracted two new squadrons of F-16 fighters, and Kirtland (Albuquerque) has always been strongly tied into Sandia National Laboratories. And they've grown.

And the real thing that's important to these three is this is the best flying space in the whole country. If you're a base in the middle of a big city and that city has commercial aircraft - like Phoenix - then you're in a much different situation.

If another BRAC were to take place, your feelings would be that Cannon is still needed?

Yes. First of all, the conflicts we're going to have in the future very much involve special operations, more than big armies being deployed. You're seeing more and more smaller confrontations; you're seeing the surveillance that's done (by special ops).

There are only two (special operations bases) - there's an east and a west special operations in the Air Force, and one's in Florida and one's here. Those have grown over the last 10 years ...

I think the military is looking more and more at the kinds of conflicts we've been in and realizing that there are going to be more of these insurgency-type operations, the guerrilla war-type operations, so we need to be prepared for that and special operations is where you want to be to do that and the remotely piloted aircraft.

The military is increasingly seeing we need to adjust to the kind of conflicts we have.

Your website references coming up with a "long-term, comprehensive solution to fix our immigration system." What does that entail?

Part of a long-term plan, first of all, is that we have 11 million people in the United States of America that are undocumented. The first thing you need to do is figure out how you're going to deal with that situation.

Some of the people are people who are coming here to work, but they don't want to be citizens; they just want to continue to work - that's a more discreet problem to deal with. That's a very important part to New Mexico, because we are a big agricultural state, and we need the people here.

Many of the people who come here are coming here to have a better life or to have a better life for their families.

I think if they're here in the United States and they haven't broken the law, they've obeyed all the rules and paid their taxes, they should be put on a path to citizenship. And it's a path to earn citizenship.

The second part is they're coming here for jobs, so you have employers who are hiring many of them, and they shouldn't be hiring them. What we try to deal with there are what are called employer sanctions to encourage employers to not be doing this in the future.

A comprehensive immigration bill would put a system in place to make sure that in the future, if you're hiring people who are illegal, you're going to be punished for it.

The other side of it is the undocumented people who are here who are criminals, they should be deported - violent criminals, people with criminal records, people who have come here to deal drugs - we need to have a really strong effort to make sure that they don't stay.

 
 

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