Civilian workers ready for worst

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Pilkington gets his hair cut by Melissa Gallegos of Clovis on Friday at a barber shop at Cannon Air Force Base. Gallegos is among 600-plus civilians who work on the base. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Ryn Gargulinski: CNJ staff writer

Devastated to nonchalant — that was the gamut of reactions from civilians working at Cannon Air Force Base when they heard the base had been targeted for closure.

Hardest hit would be the employment services at ENMRSH, an organization that serves many people with disabilities, said CEO Robert Spencer.

ENMRSH services three major contracts on the base, Spencer said — the switchboard, the commissary, and the food service in the dining hall, by far the largest. This computes to more than 100 employees, 75 of whom are people with disabilities, Spencer said.

“Our employment services would get hammered,” Spencer said. “Traditionally, people with disabilities are the last ones hired and the first to go,” Spencer said, adding that the unemployment rate of those with disabilities is at 70 percent.

“I’m not only worried about the workers on the base, but the guys around town,” Spencer said, explaining an all-around decrease in population and sales would lessen the need for employees outside the base as well.

“Most communities don’t do a really good job with people for disabilities,” Spencer said, “but Clovis — and Cannon — has.”

Spencer said he is meeting with his senior staff this week to work out a game plan. The strategy, he said, would be to relocate Cannon workers, perhaps even sooner than September, when the proposed closure could become official.

Cannon employs 614 civilians, according to its Web site.
A new job may be on the agenda for several of them. In fact, Steven Vaughan, who works as a barber on the base averaging 30 haircuts a day, said he would even consider a whole new career.

“I may just put my clippers down for the last time and move back to Florida,” said Vaughan, who initially moved to Clovis in 1967 when he was 3 months old.

However, Vaughan said, the odds of the base actually closing are slim. He said he already wrote a letter “to the man himself,” meaning President Bush, and that Cannon has plenty of reason to stay afloat.

“This base ain’t going nowhere,” Vaughan said.

Clovis resident Thomas Schiller, who has a twofold affiliation with Cannon — as retired military and civilian base worker — does not think the proposed closure will happen, either.

“I would not lose any sleep if it did close,” he said, “but I just don’t see it happening.”

Schiller, who retired from the Air Force on May 1, went right to work as a civilian on the base. He and his wife Kimberly both work as temporary hires, filling in at jobs vacated by those who are deployed.

Although Cannon’s closure would mean the Schillers would need to find new jobs, Thomas Schiller said he already has other prospects lined up in town. He said he would miss the End Zone, a base eatery, and the cyber cafe, but most of his medical needs and shopping are already met in town.

“Clovis has been my home for 14 years,” Schiller said. “I’m not leaving it.”