The news out of Washington, D.C., last week seems to bode well for future military roles coming to Cannon Air Force Base. After the uncertainties this year about whether the base will be closed, the recent announcements that a new mission seems to have been targeted for eastern New Mexico and is being evaluated rapidly feels like a Christmas present.
If it comes true, that’s about as good an economic package to put under the Christmas tree as many communities could hope for. As long as the present inside the box, whenever we get to unwrap it, isn’t a roller coaster.
After all, it feels like we’ve been riding one since last spring.
Surprising were several public hints of a bright future for the base. That is rare for many government bodies, especially the armed services, when such an important decision hasn’t been finalized.
These recent hints came in four waves:
• First, in a Dec. 1 forum. Political and civic leaders and the 12-person team assigned to gather data and suggest appropriate final options met and talked over the issue in public. Often, those movements aren’t revealed until after the fact.
• Also at the forum, the assessment team leader, Air Force Brig. Gen. Ron Ladnier, stunned the packed house with this response to a question pressed by Sen. Pete Domenici: “Personally, I think we will be able to find something that will work here (at Cannon) because of how wide we are casting the net. We will work like the dickens to find the answer for Cannon.” Domenici’s question exuded the quiet force of a powerful senior U.S. senator who expected and heard an answer that was far more than lip service.
• Then, as the team wrapped up its visit, Gov. Bill Richardson told the visitors he would call a special session of the state Legislature, if needed, to help land Cannon missions.
• Finally, Domenici and New Mexico’s other U.S. senator, Jeff Bingaman, unveiled a letter sent to them by the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Michael Moseley. He wrote that he has identified a potential new Cannon mission and that the present mission, the 27th Fighter Wing, would not move before the end of fiscal year 2006. The senators have inserted language in a pending defense appropriations bill to prevent the premature movement of those assets before efforts to find a mission have been exhausted.
Before anyone becomes giddy and thinks such activities and pronouncements are sure signs of future missions, remember the year’s roller coaster ride so far. It is two words: Enclave status.
The major Cannon BRAC positions of 2005 have been: 1) January: No, we won’t be on the list. 2) March: We’re nervous that we may be on the BRAC list. 3) May: Yes, we are on the BRAC list to close. 4) June: BRAC commissioners, please keep us open. 5) August: We are an enclave that will remain open up to the end of 2010, until the military leaders judge whether a new mission fits us and sends it to Cannon.
Here we sit today, no guarantee of a future, only hints that there will be one. But at least the hints are visible. That in itself is a Christmas present of sorts.