Cannon leaders move on to success

Cannon Connections: Liliana Castillo Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, from left, Col. Timothy Leahy and Col. Stephen Clark take part in the change of command ceremony in May 2009 held at Cannon Air Force Base. At the ceremony, outgoing commander Leahy formally handed the reins to new commander Clark.

By Sharna Johnson: Cannon Connections

Philip Breedlove is vice chief of staff for the Air Force.

Roy D. Bridges Jr. became an astronaut.

Sarah P. Wells became the top nurse in the Air Force, serving as chief of the Nurse Corps.

Kenneth W. North, Jon A. Reynolds and Robinson Risner were prisoners of war in Vietnam.

All have general stars and have been honored for their military accomplishments.

And they have one more thing in common — they all served at Cannon Air Force Base during their careers.

More than 11 dozen officers assigned to Cannon Air Force Base in its 68-year history have risen to the rank of general. Many have been standouts among their peers.

A Cannon assignment isn’t necessarily a direct cause for gaining rank. But for at least 25 of those officers who served in command at Cannon, it may have helped them catapult to top leadership roles.

Cannon’s current commander, Col. Stephen Clark, was nominated for the rank of brigadier general in December and is awaiting Senate confirmation.

Cannon has a unique command structure that can lend itself to career enhancement, he said, because the base and wing commanders jobs are rolled into one position here. At larger bases, they are typically separate jobs.

For commanders coming on the scene since the base’s mission was changed from a fighter wing to a special operations wing, the climate may be even more career enhancing.

“Cannon and the 27th (Special Operations Wing) are a rapidly growing part of an integral (Air Force Special Operations Command) mission-set,” said Cannon spokesman Capt. Lawrence van der Oord.

Military leaders have long touted special operations as the future of the military and have classified Cannon and its Melrose Range as important cogs of the future of Air Force special operations.

Officers aren’t the only ones who benefit from the high number of generals with ties to Cannon.

Bases do too when military leaders are familiar with them, said Hanson Scott, director of New Mexico’s office for military base planning and support.

A retired Air Force brigadier general, Scott said when the people who are making big decisions that can impact a base like Cannon’s future, it helps if they’ve been there.

“It certainly is important for community leaders to be able to talk to folks who understand Cannon,” he said.

The current Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, Breedlove, served as Cannon’s operations group commander from 1997 to 1999 and about 10 other generals who served at Cannon are assigned to headquarters or other high-level leadership positions in the Air Force.

Being in a position where that many members of leadership know the unique qualities of eastern New Mexico and west Texas and challenges of the base is valuable, Scott said.

“It’s sure better than talking to someone who isn’t familiar with the state. Cannon can be very proud of the fact that a lot of Air Force leaders have come out of Cannon over the years.”

This year there are 308 who hold the rank of general in the Air Force, or one general per 1,072 airmen.

In 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) halted plans to close Cannon and the base found a home with Special Operations Command. Some officials have said that will help secure its future.

As for its past, the legacy is defined by the careers of Breedlove, Bridges, Wells and dozens more like them.

Over the next several months, Cannon Connections will profile the generals and other Air Force leaders whose careers have included stops at Cannon.