WASHINGTON — Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation learned Tuesday the Air Force Special Operations Command will station its 16th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base.
The first of eight AC-130H aircraft could arrive at Cannon as early as October, along with associated crew and support personnel. Over the following 16 months, an estimated 600 military personnel will arrive at the base and 300 contractor and civilian positions will be added, according to the release.
“This assignment represents what I hope will be the first major wave of AFSOC personnel to Cannon over the next few years. We are working to prepare the base for this influx of aircraft and personnel that will make Cannon a premier AFSOC base,” said Sen. Pete Domenici, who serves on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
Randy Harris, a Clovis base advocate and member of the Clovis Committee of Fifty, said the announcement is one more step in the realization of Special Operations Command’s commitment to the area.
“What it means for Cannon Air Force Base is that AFSOC is committed to Cannon Air Force Base, to the Melrose Range, to the Clovis community, to do what they’ve committed to all along,” Harris said. “It compliments their Hurlburt base. This falls in line with what they’ve planned in line all along, and it’s great news.”
Domenici, along with fellow Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Representatives Heather Wilson, Tom Udall and Steve Pearce, were informed of the decision by AFSOC Commander Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster.
“This is more good news for Cannon Air Force Base. We’re looking forward to the hundreds of Air Force Special Operations personnel from this squadron — and their families — moving to our state,” Bingaman said.
Originally recommended for closure under a 2005 round of Base Realignment and Closure, Cannon was instead placed on enclave status by the BRAC commission — allowing the Department of Defense to give Cannon a new mission if deemed necessary, and close the base if no mission was found by the end of 2009.
AFSOC assumed command of Cannon and stood up the 27th Special Operations Wing on Oct. 1.
“At this time three years ago, the future of Cannon Air Force Base was uncertain,” said Wilson. “But the community pulled together to save Cannon Air Force Base and I was proud to be a part of that effort. This announcement today is one more step towards strengthening Cannon’s role in our national security.”
The 16th Special Operations Squadron is currently stationed at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
“I welcome the squadron to New Mexico and to Cannon,” Udall said. “I am confident they will enjoy the training benefits of all that Cannon has to offer, and the warm welcome they will receive from the community. Cannon has long played an important role in keeping America safe, and I am confident that the 16th Special Operations Squadron will help to continue the base’s tradition of excellence.”
The squadron fields the AC-130H Spectre gunship, an aircraft designed for close air support, armed reconnaissance, interdiction, night search and rescue, and airborne command and control.
“We are excited by the arrival of the gunships,” Pearce said. “New Mexico is uniquely suited to provide AFSOC with the kind of environment needed for their training. I look forward to supporting the Air Force’s plans to upgrade the gunship fleet in the future,” Pearce said.
Harris said the community is excited about the upcoming arrival of the military members and the support for the Air Force has remained strong for 50 years, “regardless of the patch they wear” during service.