Air Force numbers show gradual base growth

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

The Air Force Special Operations Command released preliminary information Friday about the number of personnel who will transition to Cannon Air Force Base over the next few years with the 16th Special Operations Wing.

The Wing assumes ownership of Cannon on Oct. 1, 2007, according to Air Force officials.

In less than four years, Air Force projections indicate there will be approximately 5,000 to 5,500 people assigned at Cannon, according to Air Force Special Operations Director of Public Affairs Lt. Col. Stephanie Holcombe.

Personnel at Cannon will gradually increase once the Wing assumes ownership of the base, according to Holcombe.

Preliminary projections of personnel assigned to the base are as follows, although they are subject to change, according to Holcombe:
• Fiscal year 2007: Less than 1,500 AFSOC people assigned to Cannon.
• Fiscal year 2008: Approximately 3,000 to 4,500 people assigned to Cannon.
• Fiscal year 2009: Approximately 4,500 to 5,000 people assigned to Cannon.
• Fiscal year 2010: Approximately 5,000 to 5,500 people assigned to Cannon.

The exact number of people and units to be transferred to Cannon will not be finalized until the Air Force completes an environmental study on the impact the new mission will have on eastern New Mexico. The study began in early August, and is being conducted by Science Applications International Corporation, headquartered in San Diego, Calif.

Environmental studies at Cannon are expected to consume 15 to 18 months, Air Force officials said previously.

“You can’t stand up a fully functional wing over night,” Holcombe said. “It will take time.”

Eventually, Cannon will be home to more personnel than are stationed at the base with the 27th Fighter Wing, officials have said.

There are more than 4,000 people assigned at Cannon with the 27th Wing, according to Staff Sgt. Craig Seals, 27th Fighter Wing chief of media relations. Approximately 270 officers, 3,201 enlisted airmen, and 614 civilians are employed at Cannon, he said.

Seals said a date has not been set for the transfer of Cannon assets, chiefly its F-16 jets, to various installations across the nation.

The demographics of the new mission at Cannon will determine how regional leaders should plan for its arrival, according to federal officials.

An official from a federal agency that guides and assists communities impacted by Department of Defense program changes advised regional leaders planning for the new mission hinges on the age, marital status and income level of those assigned at Cannon.

“Will there be more single men or more families? Do the families that are coming have a greater number of dependents? Or will they need more dormitories?” queried Office of Economic Adjustment Project Manager Gary Kuwabara during a Wednesday meeting with eastern New Mexico leaders.

His office does not yet have the answers to such questions, he said.

In an e-mail to the Clovis News Journal, Holcombe wrote:

“We fully understand the importance these numbers represent to the planning process, but we’re legally restricted from releasing any pre-decisional information until the EIS is complete.”

With demographic details an enigma, a level of anxiety persists among eastern New Mexico Realtors, according to the president of the Clovis Board of Realtors, Dawne Armstrong.

Armstrong said people with special operations ties have been trickling into the area, but for the most part, local Realtors are not sure exactly what type of housing will be in demand in the years ahead.

“We are excited,” she said, “but it would be helpful if the government would keep us ahead of the game so we can help them … so we can supply housing.”
Demographics of the new mission will also determine how area schools plan for the arrival of the new mission, school officials have said.