By Darrell Todd Maurina
Ken Huey has vivid memories of the public reaction he received while serving in the Air Force during the Vietnam era.
“My wife, then my girlfriend, was a student at (the University of New Mexico) and I remember picking her up in my flight suit,” Huey said. “I was booed, hissed, and that was the last time I ever picked her up in my flight suit. From that time on I wore civilian clothes.”
Making sure those returning to Cannon Air Force Base from Operation Iraqi Freedom receive a better welcome is a major motivation behind this Saturday’s homecoming parade and welcoming activities, according to Huey and other event organizers.
Now president of Firstbank in Clovis, Huey has spent more than two decades in the Air Force Association and other groups that support Cannon and the Air Force.
“For me the biggest thing is giving people a show of appreciation I never received,” Huey said. “I’m just glad we’re honoring (returning airmen) instead of booing and throwing things.”
Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce Director Ernie Kos said she expects Saturday’s celebration to be the biggest event of its kind in Clovis.
“The thing that needs to be emphasized the most is the actual military parade,” Kos said. “It’s expected to be the largest parade the community has ever had. We talked to a friend of ours who is assigned to Cannon, and just in his one unit, 600 military people will be marching, and that’s more than we have in any normal parade.
“We encourage the community to wear red, white and blue, decorate their businesses and homes,” Kos said. “If you decorate for this weekend you can leave it up for the Fourth of July and celebrate red, white and blue for a couple of weeks.”
Mike McDaniel, chairman of the Committee of 50 organization that works to support Cannon Air Force Base, said one reason Clovis works hard to support the troops is because of a longstanding positive relationship between Cannon and the community,
“Going to high school, the Cannon kids were here with us. It’s something for me that has always been here and we want to support it,” McDaniel said. “We like the base here and we want to keep it here.”
McDaniel said Clovis’ efforts to support the military are a natural response to what Cannon has done for a rural New Mexico community.
“One thing I’ve always maintained is the base brings so much to the community in the way of experience, places they’ve been, things they’ve seen,” McDaniel said. “It’s an intangible thing I always thought was more important than any financial gain we get.”
Members of the military community helping organize Saturday’s event said they greatly appreciated the support they’ve received from Clovis — support they haven’t always seen at other bases.
For Claire Burroughes, wife of Master Sgt. Christopher Chace with the 523rd Fighter Squadron, seeing Americans support the troops has a special significance. As a British citizen who married her American husband while he was stationed in England, she saw her husband fight in Iraq alongside British and other allied troops in Desert Storm and now is welcoming back Cannon troops who fought a war in which Britain’s troop contribution was second only to the United States.
“Military marry many different nationalities and spouses come from all parts of America,” Burroughes said. “The important thing for me is we share a common bond and we need to support each other when our spouses are deployed.”
Burroughes remembers what it was like 12 years ago to be a foreigner in the United States while her husband was sent overseas to fight in Iraq.
“We never were apart for any period of time and I had never experienced my parents being apart for longer than a week, so the first time my husband went away it was seven months for the Gulf War, and not knowing whether he would come back, living in a new country, it was a very frightening experience for me,” Burroughes said. “I always swore that if I ever could, I would work hard to make sure no one would ever feel the way I felt and I worked very hard to help build support networks. The key to survival is to build good support networks, have friends, keep busy and keep active while they are deployed.”
Burroughes said Clovis has helped considerably in providing that support network.
“I think the level of support I have received from the Clovis community has been exceptional,” Burroughes said. “Throughout my experience of traveling with the United States military I have never come across a group of people more committed to supporting military families and the military community than Clovis. They do a great job of making us feel welcome.
“It’s our home away from home.”