Cannon undergoing major facelift

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks The Airmen’s Center will include a kitchen twice as large as the one used now at Cannon, along with the base post office and a recreation center.

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

When Col. Steve Hoarn’s phone rings, or a piece of paper comes across his desk at Hurlburt Field in the Florida Panhandle, odds are it involves Cannon Air Force Base.

“Cannon is hugely important in my portfolio of things to do,” said Hoarn, director of Installations and Mission Support. “Two-thirds of the funding that I am managing, and well over two-thirds of my personnel, are involved in Cannon bed-down activities on a day-to-day basis.”

Hoarn said he’s far from the only one focused on Cannon.

The military population of Cannon, currently about 2,200, is expected to top 4,000 in 2009 as it changes to become the Air Force’s 27th Special Operations Command.

Where they’ll live, where they’ll eat, and how they take care of their children fit into quality of life — something the Air Force weighs just as much as the weapons these personnel are trained to use.

“We need hangars, we need maintenance facilities, we need operations facilities,” Hoarn said. “At the same time, our leadership realizes it’s no good to have a bunch of hangars and maintenance facilities” without support infrastructure.

Nearly $536 million is tied up in construction work through 2015 as the base changes to the 27th Special Operations Wing. Of that, about $36 million is geared toward quality-of -life issues.

The first quality issue is housing.

Hoarn said whether it’s a high school graduate serving his or her first tour at Cannon, a special operations transfer or a decades-long military family, everyone wants well-maintained living areas.

Hoarn said there is a need to upgrade housing, both for dormitory dwellers and those seeking family settings. Hoarn doesn’t want somebody coming to Cannon from another base and “wondering what happened” to the living standards set by their previous assignment.

“We have some nice military family housing at Cannon, but we have some that is well below the Air Force standard,” Hoarn said.

The Air Force wants to tackle the issue with a combination of dormitories, the local housing market and privatized housing.

“The base will have a requirement for about 1,200 units; this is down from over 1,600 units a few years ago,” said Tim Farmer, who works at Cannon as the element chief for capital asset management. “Over 250 of Cannon’s oldest units are currently being deconstructed. Cannon is looking to have around 400 new homes built once the housing is privatized in 2010, and renovations on at least 600 existing units.”

Most of this new housing won’t be completed until 2011 and 2012. That means, Farmer said, the local housing market will have to absorb population growth for awhile. People coming in for duty at Cannon will be looking for the same things civilians would want in housing, Farmer said — good prices, locations and safe neighborhoods.

“The feedback we have received from our inbound members to date is there seems to be a shortage of three- and four-bedroom rentals and mid-priced homes for sale in the $125,000 to $195,000 range,” Farmer said.

“Also, there is a lack of rentals in the local market that will accept pets. Additional storage within the house is always a nice option for our military members who are required to PCS (make a permanent change of station) every few years.”

On base, at least three dormitories that date to the 1960s are being torn down. Gerald O’Brien, a civil engineer, said another two may be torn down as well.

In their places will come new dormitories built around the Airmen’s Center, a 28,000-square-foot building Hoarn said could be compared to a college’s campus union building. O’Brien said nine dormitories will surround the Airmen’s Center, with four to be built in the next five years. Each dormitory will hold nearly 100 airmen, O’Brien said.

Maj. Richard McKee, 27th Special Operations Wing Services Squadron commander, said the center will include a kitchen twice as large as the current kitchen used at Cannon, along with the base post office and a recreation center with new furniture and LCD televisions.

“This is a center for the airmen living in the dormitories, which are going to surround the Airmen’s Center,” said Hoarn. “There’s going to be an area for them to relax, be able to play pool or just some recreational games, or to read.”

Another renovation will add 25,600 square feet to the Child Development Center, located in the Chavez Manor housing area.

“It has all the programs we need; it’s just not big enough,” Hoarn said. We need to catch up on that.”

Small things make a difference, too. 27th Special Operations Commander Col. Tim Leahy said a recently completed skate park at Doc Stewart Park was a small way to tell families Cannon’s leaders are listening to their needs.

“In addition to the massive construction efforts to accommodate the base’s new mission,” Leahy said, “I believe it’s just as important that we’ve created a culture here that all at Cannon feel that any suggestions for improvements to the base are heard and are acted upon.”

And what can entities outside the gates of Cannon do to provide support? Hoarn and other AFSOC personnel have said to change nothing.

“I could say things about military discounts and community support and outreach — but I see all that right now,” Hoarn said. “You’re doing all the right things. It had that reputation for a number of years.”

Wes Graham, a Clovis Realtor, said the city has many things families are looking for, but has heard concerns about public transportation and activities.

“I think they wish there were more activities within the community, more facilities for swimming centers — more physical activities, more cultural things typically you’re not going to find in this size community,” Graham said.

Lt. Col. Paul Caltagirone, deputy group commander for the 27th Special Operations Group, moved to Cannon in June from Las Vegas. He tells new arrivals enjoying Cannon is directly related to how involved they get with the local community.

“They have invited us and welcomed us into their sports programs, into their churches, into their businesses, into their recreation,” he said.

“Every single place we have gone, we have been thanked for what we do, thanked for our service and thanked legitimately for coming to Clovis, New Mexico. My daughters were welcomed with open arms in everything they’ve done, from choir to sports to band to the churches they go to. It’s fantastic.”