By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
A group in Tucson, Ariz., is searching for some quiet. And deliverance could be available in the wide, open spaces of eastern New Mexico.
Land up for grabs at Cannon Air Force Base is under evaluation by members of the Military Community Compatibility Committee, according to Tahnee Robertson, a contracted facilitator for the group of Tucson residents and business leaders.
The committee wants to mitigate noise from military flights at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in the burgeoning midtown of Tucson.
Though the air base is nestled in the heart of the metropolitan area, and though the group of 28 people yearn for calmer skies, they also want to preserve the future of the Arizona base.
“The city grew around the base. It is no one’s fault, just bad planning,” said Robertson from her Tucson home, where the roar of jets often muffles telephone conversations.
A few months ago, a common-sense, grassroots solution to the noise woes emerged, she said.
Some residents proposed a National Guard Bureau program that utilizes Davis airspace, “Operation Snowbird,” could be shifted roughly 400 miles east to mission-less Cannon, according to MCCC officials.
The Department of Defense recommended shuttering Cannon during the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process, but the installation was spared by a federal commission, which requested the department find a new mission for the base, currently home to three F-16 squadrons.
The National Guard operation has used Davis-Monthan as a winter deployment site for northern tier Air National Guard units since 1975, according to the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Web site. The operation also provides overflow aircraft support for Davis-Monthan, the Navy, Marine Corps, Army National Guard, and U.S. allies, according to the Web site.
“These units schedule space for Arizona in the winter time. In the northern tier states, there is inclement weather. Here (in Arizona), they can fly every day and conduct intensive quality training in short periods of time,” said Lt. Col. Carlos Roque, a spokesperson for the operation.
Robertson and other Tucson residents allege the Snowbird flights are louder than others at Davis.
There were 637 noise complaints related to flights at Davis-Monthan last year, and 214 have piled up thus far this year, according to a Davis-Monthan spokesperson, Maj. Laurel Tingley.
The Snowbird operation rents about four acres of Davis-Monthan land, Tingley said. The partnership enables 16 Snowbird squadrons to deploy for two weeks of training between October and May each year, according to the Davis-Monthan AFB Web site. Each deployment package consists of 10 to 12 aircraft, 20 to 24 pilots and 110 to 116 support personnel, the Web site said.
National Guard officials would be reluctant to bid farewell to their Davis partnership and are in his knowledge not looking for a new location, Roque said.
The Snowbird operation relies heavily on the Barry M. Goldwater Complex, a vast training range for U.S. and allied pilots roughly the size of Connecticut and situated between Yuma, Ariz., and Tucson. The range is owned by Luke Air Force Base.
The spot is convenient for training, and “the distances involved” could make Cannon a comparably unattractive training site, Roque said.
Cannon does have its own 66,000-acre training range, Melrose Bombing Range, just a five-minute flight from Cannon, advocates of the mission swap point out.
But the range is just a speck compared to the 1.9 million acres of The Goldwater Complex.
A member of the Cannon advocacy group the Committee of 50, Randy Harris, said he has not heard of the proposal to swap missions proposed by Tucson residents. He would not comment further on the proposal.
The grassroots solution would need “an awful lot of consideration before it could be considered viable or not,” said Ron Shoopman, a retired Tucson resident who spent some time at Cannon as a young fighter pilot and rose to become a commander at an Air National Guard unit. Shoopman also serves on the MCCC committee.
“Nobody from the Department of Defense has looked at this. Basically, it is one possibility on a list of thousands,” Shoopman said.