Bill would keep base assets in place

By Karl Terry: Freedom Newspapers

Language approved Wednesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee would assure that personnel and assets are not lost at Cannon Air Force Base while the Secretary of Defense searches for a new mission for the base.

The language, developed by U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., in consultation with the committee, would prohibit the Pentagon from withdrawing any assets from Cannon until the Secretary of Defense certifies to Congress that he has sought a new mission for the eastern New Mexico base.

“This is a very good first step to ensure that the Defense Department gets off the dime to quickly seek a new mission for Cannon. It keeps the 27th Fighter Wing in place, and I believe it is enough to ensure some positive action within the Pentagon,” said Domenici, who serves on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

“This bill keeps all military assets in place while directing the Pentagon to seek a new mission for the base. I believe this is a very good outcome for our state,” said Bingaman. “Now our goal is to work to keep the provisions related to Cannon in the final bill to be signed into law.”

The Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) placed Cannon into enclave status during hearings in August after BRAC officials voted to uphold the Defense Department’s recommendation to close the base. Along with the enclave status, the commission directed the Secretary of Defense to find a suitable new mission for Cannon by 2009 or close the base permanently.

In the meantime, the BRAC Commission has approved the Pentagon’s request to reassign all F-16 aircraft now at Cannon to other bases. That could happen within the next 12-18 months unless the new verbiage stays in the appropriations bill, which should be debated in the next week.

“Everybody ought to be celebrating in the streets if it is passed,” said Randy Harris, who heads the Washington Committee of the Committee of 50, a group actively working to keep Cannon open.

“It works to ensure that there is no loss of men and women or jobs at Cannon,” said Harris. “It means we keep flying while they search for a new mission.”

Harris said he is pleased with the work the New Mexico senators had done in getting the language added to the bill. He plans to be in Washington today as that bill makes its way to the floor of the senate.

Asked if he felt the wording to protect Cannon would stay in the bill, Harris said he is optimistic.

“Today I feel very good about it because it doesn’t affect any other state,” he said. “It stays within the directives of the BRAC Commission.”

Harris said he is confident the Department of Defense will take a close look at what he says is an irreplaceable asset at Cannon.

“They can’t afford to lose something like this,” Harris said.