Base growth highlighted at chamber banquet

Freedom New Mexico: Kevin Wilson Air Force Special Operations Commander Gen. Donald C. Wurster speaks about the growth of Cannon Air Force Base during the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce banquet Friday night at the Clovis Civic Center.

Kevin Wilson

Kevin Wilson

The Clovis and Curry County Chamber of Commerce celebrated the growth of Cannon Air Force Base, and itself, Friday night in its annual banquet.

Chamber Executive Director Ernie Kos said at last count, 362 tickets were sold to the banquet at the Clovis Civic Center, which honored some of the area’s top citizens and welcomed Air Force Special Operations Commander Gen. Donald C. Wurster.

Before handing the reins to 2011 Chamber President Raymond Mondragon, outgoing President Tom Phelps gave out citizen awards and noted the chamber had added 37 businesses to its ranks.

That drew significantly less applause than announcements made about how growth at Cannon Air Force Base has exceeded projections under Air Force Special Operation Command.

Base Commander Col. Stephen Clark said the population at the base had just reached the 5,000 mark, well ahead of a projected estimate of 4,400 by 2014. That projection has since moved up to 6,000 personnel.

In 2010, $150 million in construction took place on the base and Wurster said another $288 million is coming.

Wurster said Cannon has 74 planes now, but will move to 135 airplanes by 2014. He said the base is undertaking an effort to build or remodel 1,038 homes over five years, with the first finished in 2012.

Both said that none of those scenarios would be possible without local support.

“I’d never been anywhere for longer than the four years I spent at the academy until I moved back to Hurlburt (Field, home of AFSOC),” Wurster said. “I’ve been in 45 houses and two dozen communities. I’m always astounded when I look at a community like this and see what a committed citizenry can be.”

Clark said the community contributed with numerous efforts, including a base appreciation day and a single airman’s Christmas dinner that emptied the dorms.

Each spot at the banquet was adorned with a chocolate star, symbolic of Clark’s first star with his nomination to become brigadier general — a position Wurster joked was a synonym for “Colonel.”

Wurster said starting in August, the base will be receiving new C-130J gunships, with one rolling out every month for the next year-plus. He said the crews have great responsibility for helping ground forces, who need aerial support in case of enemy ambushes.

“The guy on the ground, he says, ‘We were pinned down, we were done for. Then the gunship came,’” Wurster said. “If you think you like the sound of a gunship, think of how they feel.”

The chamber finished the evening by giving out awards, and observed a “one-clap rule,” as illustrated in a recent military banquet. The crowd, in unison, clapped once after award winners spoke.

Honored as business of the year was Citizens Bank of Clovis, which helped pay $15,000 to bring Jay the giraffe to the Hillcrest Park Zoo.

Brenda Miller took citizen of the year and was given a surprise call via Skype from her husband, Skip Overdier.

Overdier, a maintenance manager for the base, was overseas on assignment. He congratulated his wife, who was noted for generous deeds like buying groceries for citizens in need.

“Being here,” Miller said,” being married to (Overdier), being in this community that just welcomed me with open arms from the time I came in, I can’t help but continue to give and keep giving.”