Move will give crowded Florida base more room
Published: Wednesday, June 21st, 2006
Editor’s note: Mladen Rudman is a staff writer for the Northwest Daily News, a Freedom Newspaper in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. HURLBURT FIELD — Changes are on the way for the 16th Special Operations Wing, part of which will be moved to Cannon Air Force Base starting in late 2007. The half that stays behind at Hurlburt Field will be re-activated as the vaunted 1st Special Operations Wing, according to Air Force officials. The announcement came after much speculation about the futures of both air bases. Cannon was facing closure and, locally, observers were wondering to what degree Hurlburt would be gutted during the Air Force Special Operations Command realignment. Lawmakers and military officials said Tuesday they expect Hurlburt to support roughly the same population of active-duty personnel — some 7,000 troops — after realignment as it does today. The decision to move warplanes, air commandos and the 16th SOW’s flag to Cannon was a function of three considerations, explained Lt. Col. Toby Corey, assigned to the AFSOC headquarters at Hurlburt. “It all really boiled down to ramp, range and the weather,” said Corey. The ramp at Hurlburt is currently crowded, with little room for more aircraft. He said the Cannon SOW would be able to conduct 95 percent of its training missions there because of its vast range. It also has terrain resembling plains and mountains in Afghanistan and Iraq. And then there’s foul weather. “If Hurlburt is AFSOC’s only base and a hurricane comes along and wipes it out, we have no backup base,” said Corey. The lieutenant colonel said no decision has been made on which squadrons would move to Cannon, but it’s likely that AC-130s, MC-130Hs and possibly MC-130Ps are among the planes heading west. AFSOC wants East and West Coast SOWs with “equal capabilities.” That means the New Mexico air base also gets some CV-22 tiltrotor machines, also known as Ospreys. U.S. Dist. 1 Rep. Jeff Miller was briefed by a high-level Department of the Air Force official days before the announcement. “I think a western arm of Air Force special operations makes sense,” he said. Cannon could support unconventional warfare and counterterrorism operations in the Pacific and Hurlburt in the Atlantic. Air commandos use many of their aircraft to carry and supply Army and Navy Special Forces, often behind enemy lines, while gunships provide close-air support. It helps immensely that Hurlburt would stay a busy air base, which means its payroll’s economic contribution to Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties would remain intact. Miller added he’s not worried “at this point” about a significant troop drawdown. “AFSOC is growing, as is the entire special operations community,” the Chumuckla Republican said. “I’m confident Hurlburt will remain robust.” His calculation is shared by the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County. Both its executive director, Larry Sassano, and Bob Black, a member of the council’s Defense Support Initiative Committee, expect AFSOC’s realignment to have little, if any, adverse effects locally. “At this time, it looks like it will be status quo,” said Black.
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