Paradise lost? Some not looking forward to mission change

CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle
John Sides fishes Monday in the shadow of the Brooks Bridge over the Santa Rosa Sound in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., where growth has taxed the region.

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ Staff Writer

Plenty of space awaits the 16th Special Operations Wing in rural eastern New Mexico.

But pulling away from paradise is not easy for some in the Wing, and there are local business owners who mourn their pending absence.

“This is a highly desirable tour of duty,” said military wife Vickye Arnold, whose husband is a pilot in the 16th Wing.

“From what I understand, there is not much (in Clovis),” she said.

The couple has not been relocated to New Mexico, but to her native Arizona, she said.

Air Force officials have not sealed the number of personnel or aircraft to be sent to Cannon. And the Special Operations presence in the region will not disappear.

The Air Force estimates about half of the personnel at Hurlburt Field will transfer to Cannon, and future Special Operations assets will be split between the bases, according to an Air Force press release.

In a New Orleans-style cafe clipped on the end of a strip of businesses near Hurlburt, the cash register is tethered to the purse strings of the Special Operations corps.

“Some days in here, all you see is military uniforms,” said cafe owner Debbie Wilson, who established her restaurant eight years ago.

“I don’t want to see them (the 16th Wing) go,” said Selenia Cole, a waitress at the cafe with military family ties.

Both of her daughters married Air Force Special Operations personnel, and one is expecting a child. She doesn’t know yet if her sons-in-law will be sent to New Mexico.

“A lot of these people are family or best friends,” she said, ducking into the kitchen.

Generally, Air Force Special Operations personnel are relocated once every four years — less frequently than in other branches, said 16th Wing member Maj. Eric Cox, who was one of five uniformed men lunching at a local sandwich shop.

“There is still a lot of uncertainty,” about the Wing shift, he said.

“A lot of folks are stationed here for a long time, and they are very happy,” Cox said.