By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
A major Air Force operation headquartered in the Florida Panhandle is seeking to expand its operations, and is considering Cannon Air Force Base as a new home.
The Air Force Special Operations Command has made two official visits to Cannon, one late last year and another in January, according to Capt. Andre Kok of the Cannon Public Affairs Office.
“They primarily looked at the infrastructure to assess suitability for future AFSOC use,” Kok said.
Though it has visited Cannon twice, Air Force Special Operations Command hasn’t reached any conclusions, an Air Force spokesperson said.
“AFSOC sent a team to Cannon Air Force Base to explore it as a possible AFSOC facility, but no firm recommendation has been made. Any decision about a mission there will be made by the secretary of the Air Force and the Department of Defense,” said Hurlburt Field Public Affairs Officer Master Sgt. Stewart Camp, speaking on behalf of Air Force Special Operations Command. Hurlburt Field in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., is home to about 8,000 active-duty special operations personnel, according to base officials.
Special Operations Command officials are not the only ones who have visited Cannon in recent months.
Echoing a multitude of civilian base advocates, Kok noted that “multiple people from multiple areas” of the military have looked at Cannon since a federal commission decided in August to enclave the base, while promising its jets to various installations across the country and requesting the Department of Defense find a new mission for the base.
The Air Force Special Operations Command visits to Cannon took on a greater relevance Monday when Department of Defense announced special operations is among the few military segments that will expand in coming years.
According to The Associated Press, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld envisions a growing role for forces that can function in small units, sometimes clandestinely, to hunt down and kill terrorists and to work with friendly foreign forces.
The bulk of special operations training is conducted at Hurlburt.
But there are smaller commands around the country, as well as overseas, which also specialize in unconventional warfare, psychological operations, special reconnaissance, and other special operations areas, according to the Web site, www.globalsecurity.org.
“Hurlburt has been an excellent place” for special operations and isn’t in the market to relocate, ASFOC spokesperson Matt Durham said. However, the command is interested in increasing its mission capabilities, which are minimal in the west, Durham said.
“We are exploring a whole spectrum of possibilities,” Durham said. “We are looking at a lot of different installations.”
Durham said the Melrose Bombing Range, situated about 25 miles from Cannon, is not an attraction for AFSOC.
“We don’t drop bombs,” he said. “We do infiltration.”
Despite official noncommittal, Clovis resident Doug Downs has latched onto to the special operations prospect, so much so that he designed a real estate advertisement campaign.
In bold, black letters the ads asks, “Is the future of Cannon… Special Ops?”
Downs, a Prudential Associate Broker and Realtor, spent nearly a decade of his childhood near Hurlburt Field. His father was stationed there as a special operations agent.
The ad plays on local interests, he said.
“Everybody’s been so rheumy-faced and downcast since BRAC,” he said. Also, he said, the possibility of special operations coming to Cannon isn’t far fetched, for more than one reason.
Because the military hot zone has shifted from the jungles of Asia and South America to the deserts of the Middle East, Downs said Cannon’s arid locale is a training asset. And while real estate prices have skyrocketed in the Florida Panhandle, they have remained relatively low in the High Plains region, Downs said.
“There is a real shortage of housing there because of the hurricanes,” said Downs, who visited the region over the holidays. “The prices are too outrageous for the military to accommodate,” he said.