Opinion: Please wear a mask when you go out


July 5, 2020

Team Clovis-Portales (I have a thing for teams...), I'm writing to ask for your help.

Since the end of World War II, the communities of Cannon Air Force Base (formerly Clovis Field), Clovis, and Portales have found common cause on the High Plains of eastern New Mexico. We've come to rely heavily on one another - through good times and bad. Now is one such time.

I ask that you wear a mask when you go out and when you can't keep more than 6 feet away from people you don't live with.

For the last three months, it has seemed like the rest of the country and the state has been in a bit of hysteria, while we prepared for the worst here that seemed to never come.

At Cannon, we have a lot of people who travel the world in support of the nation's defense. We have had to adapt our lifestyles to ensure that we didn't bring back coronavirus from faraway places and put our communities at risk.

I'm proud to say that we've done so up to this point, and that you have my pledge as the base commander to put the health and safety of the community at the top of my priority list.

But here's the secret. I'm not doing that out of the goodness of my heart. While I care a great deal about our communities, I'm charged with carrying out a mission, 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Year in and year out. And I've come to realize that it is an absolute necessity for the surrounding community to pitch in to preserve the mission capabilities we're responsible for here at Cannon.

Yes there's a gate - but there is no barrier keeping COVID-19 apart from us. Our families live and work in the surrounding areas, and we are part of this community.

I'm concerned about the recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases in the local area. While I understand the state's need to open back up, it has also posed some challenges to us all.

We started out strong, with almost all businesses re-opening with sound COVID-safe practices. But as the weeks have dragged on, we've become complacent. I see fewer people wearing masks, and even in businesses that previously had good practices in place, I see employees keeping masks below their chins, which defeats the purpose, or not wearing them at all.

I understand why, but I need to tell you these actions are hurting Cannon's population. It's making it harder for those of us committed to defending the nation to go about doing so.

You see, the Department of Defense will not allow us to resume unrestricted travel for our missions and our personal leave-time to travel and visit family and friends in other parts of the country - until the areas surrounding its bases have a sustained decline in numbers of new cases for a rolling 14-day period.

If Curry and Roosevelt County cases keep climbing at the rate they are now, we will remain restricted. I will not be able to bring all of the base's employees back to work (we are currently operating at about 35%). I will not be able to allow our military retiree population back onto base with unrestricted access. And we will not get back to the sense of pre-coronavirus normal we had before March of this year.

We are literally all in this together.

It is for these reasons I fully support Curry County Manager Lance Pyle's initiatives to increase the number of people wearing masks. It is one of the few guaranteed ways to reduce virus transmission and ultimately save lives.

Furthermore, Clovis Mayor Mike Morris and the city of Clovis employees who have also elected to enforce mask wear and physical distancing have no doubt contributed to the flattening of the curve in the region.

Wearing a mask is not a political statement - it's a sign of concern and respect for our fellow citizens, and in particular to the elderly and the vulnerable among us.

For those reasons and to preserve the health of my force at Cannon, I've instructed my personnel to wear masks in town when 6 feet of distancing is not possible, and to only patronize businesses that are compliant with New Mexico's directives on COVID-safe practices.

This is a very real issue that we're dealing with at Cannon. Everyone is wearing masks here because it's the only way we can keep doing our jobs during this pandemic without risking large numbers of our airmen spreading coronavirus on base.

I know that as this goes on, we're all getting tired. I see it in my airmen and their families. I see it when I'm out in town. And I see it in the national news. But COVID-19 isn't going away anytime soon until we take measures to keep our communities safe.

We need your help and what we need is really pretty easy. Wear a mask in places you're not able to keep 6 feet away from people you don't live with. Wash your hands frequently. Get out and exercise. Find ways to keep in touch with your family and friends.

And don't let it get you down. We will all get through this together as a community, and we'll eventually get back to the old normal.

Until then, please help us stay healthy and be vigilant ... for our community and for the nation.

Col. Robert Masaitis is commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon Air Force Base. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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