Congress continues to stand in the way of the Air Force’s plan to retire the A-10 — the main flying mission based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. But at the same time, the Air Force has begun training on the plane’s intended replacement, the F-35. Tucson, so far, has been passed over as a base for the new fighter jet.
The Air Force also says it has excess real estate and wants Congress to endorse a process — possibly starting in 2017 — that would lead to base realignments and closures.
Against this backdrop, Arizona Daily Star reporters Sarah Garrecht Gassen and David Wichner have examined the future of Davis-Monthan. What do the community and local governments need to do to ensure that the Air Force sees long-term value in D-M? What are D-M’s assets and how might they fit into new or expanded missions?
The Star’s reporting took us to Georgia, New Mexico, Nevada and California to see how other communities support and protect their bases.
Our weeklong special report — “Mission Critical” — began Sunday in print. As a subscriber bonus we are publishing the entire special report below ahead of that print schedule. Check back next Sunday when the Star editorial board makes its suggestions about what Tucson should do to protect D-M.
If not A-10s, then what for Davis-Monthan?
By David Wichner, Arizona Daily Star
Not far from the main runway at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, rows of A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-attack jets sit in the sun, likely never to fly again.
If the Air Force has its way, those planes will be joined by 83 more “Warthogs” still active at D-M — home to the nation’s largest A-10 contingent.
The Air Force wants to scrap the A-10 within four years and instead use F-16 and F-15 fighters — and eventually, the multipurpose F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Its plan has stalled in Congress, but the Air Force keeps pushing.
Davis-Monthan has so far been passed over for the F-35, and supporters say that without a strong new flying mission, the base could be vulnerable to closure. The Air Force says it must close bases because it has 30 percent more capacity than it needs to operate its current fleets.
The Department of Defense wants Congress to approve a new round of base reorganization and closures — known in military circles as BRAC — in 2017.
“Maintaining a flying mission, a robust flying mission, out of Davis-Monthan is what is important — and I think it should be important to the Air Force as well as the community,” says retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Eugene Santarelli, a former D-M commander who has worked as a consultant with local officials during previous base-closing rounds.
With D-M pumping nearly $1 billion into the Tucson-area economy each year, business leaders are trying to identify new or expanded missions to keep the base viable.
“Any type of reduction in military spending or a decrease in the assets at D-M is going to have a significant impact on our local economy,” says David Godlewski, chairman of the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance and president of the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association.
“D-M is a cornerstone of our economy.”
Davis-Monthan supporters — among them the business-backed DM50, the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance, Pima County and the city of Tucson — have five broad suggestions for the base’s future:
• Use D-M for close air support training, perhaps with F-16s.
• Transform it into a center for combat search-and-rescue training.
• Move more drone operations here.
• Create a central operations base under the 12th Air Force, which already has its headquarters at D-M.
• Make the base home to a future close air support plane or light-attack plane.
OPTION: CLOSE AIR SUPPORT TRAINING
The Air Force plans to replace D-M’s three A-10 squadrons totaling 83 planes with just one Air Force Reserve squadron of 21 F-16s in four years.
Until the F-35 is ready, the Air Force expects to use the F-16, the F-15 and unmanned aircraft to support ground troops in close proximity to enemy forces.
Why it might work at D-M:
D-M has handled close air support training for decades.
“I think they can do that easily with F-16s, with specialized training and F-16 units dedicated to that mission,” Santarelli says.
Plus, switching to the F-16 might be one of the easier transitions for the Air Force.
A small detachment of F-16s commanded by the Air Guard 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport is based at D-M and flies daily. Other F-16s from the 162nd and other units frequently use D-M for training, sometimes to load live munitions before heading out to training ranges.
D-M offers easy access to the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range west of Tucson, which offers opportunities for large-scale close air support training and combat search-and-rescue training.
Why it might not work:
Other bases, including Moody Air Force Base in Georgia — home to the second-biggest contingent of A-10s with 48 — would likely be considered along with D-M.
Making D-M a center of F-16 close air support training would entail basing at least one F-16 training squadron here. It is not clear whether the one Reserve squadron the Air Force plans to move to D-M in 2019 would be a training squadron.
Any move to locate more F-16s at D-M also would likely generate some opposition: Neighborhood activists who oppose the F-35 as too loud for an urban setting have fought F-16 operations for the same reason.
Tucson Forward, which was formed mainly to stop the F-35 from coming here, says the F-35 as well as the F-16 are too risky to operate over urban areas because they are single-engine jets with no backup in case of an engine failure.
OPTION: COMBAT SEARCH AND RESCUE
D-M’s role in combat search-and-rescue training could be expanded. The Air Force typically trains with HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters and HC-130 Combat King fixed-wing aircraft, with the support of fighter jets including the A-10.
Why it might work:
D-M has been a center of combat search-and-rescue training since it became home to several units in 2002. It has hosted the largest rescue training exercise in the world, Angel Thunder, annually since 2006.
The base’s contingent, which includes the 563rd Rescue Group and associated units, isn’t in line for cuts under the Air Force’s long-term restructuring plan. In fact, the Air Force decided to fund a new combat search-and-rescue helicopter to replace the aging Pave Hawks.
Why it might not work:
The Air Force has no plan to expand or consolidate combat rescue units. In any realignment or consolidation, D-M might find itself in competition with other bases including Georgia’s Moody, which is home to three rescue squadrons and is headquarters of the 23rd Wing, which commands the 563rd Rescue Group at D-M.
Also, the Air Force has historically based its rescue assets regionally, which may weigh against major consolidation.
D-M became home to its first modern unmanned aircraft unit in 2007, when the 162nd Air Guard added the 214th Reconnaissance Squadron, whose pilots and sensor operators remotely operate MQ-1 Predator drones overseas. (The base housed a unit that dropped reconnaissance drones during the Vietnam War.)
The 214th is transitioning to the larger, heavier and more capable MQ-9 Reaper, and recently received the first of six Reapers it is to operate by fiscal 2017.
Unmanned aircraft have become an important part of the Air Force’s arsenal, performing nonstop intelligence gathering, surveillance and, in some cases, attack missions without endangering pilots.
Why it might work:
D-M supporters including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., think D-M could host a larger drone mission — perhaps involving border surveillance and security — in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security. The DHS operates its own drones along the border, including at Libby Army Airfield in Sierra Vista.
“We’re going to require a lot more surveillance of the border if we’re going to secure it, and D-M is a perfect place for that,” McCain said at a press briefing earlier this year.
The Air Force says it plans to fill some close air support missions with unmanned aircraft, and demand for drones is high. The Air Force has received about 150 of the 343 MQ-9 Reaper production aircraft it plans to acquire by 2019.
Why it might not work:
For now, drones can’t be flown in and out of D-M because the base doesn’t have a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration that would allow it. The 214th Reconnaissance Squadron’s first “launch and recovery element” — a hangar and ramp that allows pilots to see their aircraft for practice takeoffs and landings — was recently dedicated at Libby in Sierra Vista, where drones can operate under federal airspace certification.
Creech Air Force Base in Nevada houses the Air Force’s largest unmanned aircraft operation, and the Air Force has not announced any plans to expand or consolidate drone squadrons.
Amid a constant high demand for drone missions, the Air Force has found it difficult to train enough pilots.
Customs and Border Protection’s drone program was criticized in a December 2014 report by Homeland Security’s inspector general.
OPTION: CENTRAL OPERATIONS BASE
A consultant to the city of Tucson recently suggested that D-M become a “central operations base” for the 12th Air Force-Air Forces Southern. The 12th Air Force, which has responsibility for operations in Central and South America and the Caribbean, is headquartered at D-M.
Barry Blechman, who conducted a study for the city’s lobbying firm, reasoned that D-M’s location and assets would make it a good choice as one of a few centralized bases for command and control, support and logistics of global force projection.
Why it might work:
An earlier Air Force strategy to streamline operations for overseas missions was put on hold during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now, Blechman concluded, the Air Force needs to reinvigorate that effort amid a shrinking force and unrelenting overseas military demands.
He says units under the 12th Air Force at D-M — including the 612th Air and Space Operations Center and D-M’s rescue, electronic combat and reconnaissance drone units — already support global power projection, which is the ability to quickly put forces anywhere in the world.
D-M is one of only a few bases capable of a central-operations role that also has a three-star general (12th Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Mark C. Nowland).
Blechman says the timing is right to sell the central-base idea — last year the Air Force launched a deployment system that sends large teams rather than cobbling together teams from multiple bases and units.
Why it might not work:
The Air Force has not said how its new deployment regimen will affect basing decisions.
Blechman’s strategy has been criticized by leaders of the DM50 and the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance, who say attracting a major new flying mission to D-M is critical and the central-ops idea doesn’t capitalize on the base’s considerable assets.
OPTION: NEW PLANES
Senior Air Force officials, including Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, say the Air Force may need a new plane for low-level air support against lightly defended targets, though there’s no money for it now. Several U.S. and foreign companies have developed planes that might fill the gap in the interim.
Why it might work:
While it is only talk so far, an Air Force official recently said the service has considered using lower-cost reconnaissance planes for lower-threat scenarios. Those could include the Brazilian-made A-29 Super Tocano, a prop-driven plane the U.S. is buying for Afghan air forces; the Beechcraft AT-6; or the proposed Textron AirLand Scorpion, a twin-engine jet.
As a longtime center of close air support training and the closely related search-and-rescue support, D-M would likely be considered as a training site for any new aircraft developed for those roles.
Why it might not work:
The Air Force insists that the F-16 and other aircraft can perform close air support until the multi-role F-35 is ready, and it has not announced plans for a light-attack plane.
D-M appears to have missed out on an early step toward this concept: Last fall, Afghan pilots began training in close air support with the Super Tucano at Moody Air Force base in Georgia.
A-10's backers battling for its survival
By David Wichner, Arizona Daily Star
For this year — and perhaps longer — the A-10s that fly over Tucson almost daily may escape the budget ax with help from a longtime ally with new power.
The Air Force wants to retire the entire fleet of A-10 “Warthogs,” including three squadrons at D-M, by 2019 to save some $4 billion. But Arizona Sen. John McCain, a former Navy pilot who ascended to the chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee in January, has vowed to halt the A-10’s retirement.
McCain argues that no other plane offers the low-level, sustained close air support the A-10 delivers.
The long-serving Republican senator scoffs at the Air Force’s contention that supersonic jets, including the controversial and costly F-35 Joint Striker Fighter, can replace the A-10 — and that until the F-35 is ready, F-16 and F-15 jet fighters can fill the role.
“In the short term — and I’m talking about years, not decades — I think the A-10 has to be kept in operation because there’s no adequate replacement for it,” McCain said at a press briefing in late March.
As one of the “Big Four” leaders of defense policy in Congress — the chairmen and ranking members of each chamber’s armed-services committees — McCain wields considerable power in the debate over the A-10’s future.
The Warthog also has a passionate, though less influential, champion in freshman Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, a former A-10 pilot and squadron commander who sits on the House Armed Services Committee. McSally has made saving the A-10 one of her top priorities and has hammered the Air Force for its A-10 plans at every opportunity.
The A-10 is still a warfare powerhouse.
Right now, A-10s are deployed to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. They also are in Europe in a show of support for Ukraine amid Russian aggression.
That, and high-level congressional backing, bodes well for its immediate future.
Though the 2016 defense budget won’t be finalized for months, the A-10 is looking safer. The House has passed a version of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act that fully funds the A-10 fleet for a year and forbids its retirement, and McCain’s Senate Armed Services Committee has advanced similar measures.
“In the short term, I think it’s safe, because of Sen. McCain, primarily, and world events,” says retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Ron Shoopman, president of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, which is a founding member of the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance.
But the end is clearly not far off.
The Air Force has mothballed more than 100 A-10s in recent years, despite upgrades intended to keep them flying until 2028.
The total fleet numbered 283 at the start of 2015 — including 83 at D-M. That may soon drop below 250.
Under a budget compromise last year, Congress let the Air Force put as many as 36 A-10s in “backup aircraft inventory” status — kept but not maintained to be combat-ready. In March the Air Force announced that 18 A-10s — including nine at D-M — would be put in backup status this year, with more to come.
That angers Rep. McSally, who calls last year’s budget compromise a bad deal for ground troops, and for taxpayers.
She says A-10s are an essential tool in recovering troops in harm’s way.
They can fly low and slow, loiter over battle areas for long periods and deliver crucial firepower with their massive 30 mm cannons.
“There’s no other airplane that can do that in the inventory or in future purchases,” she says.
She also notes that A-10s can be flown at a fraction of the cost of other front-line fighters.
“When you look at being a good steward of the taxpayers’ money, the A-10 is a relatively cheap airplane to operate even as it’s getting older,” she says.
The A-10 is also more capable than ever. All of the Warthogs in service have been upgraded with advanced “glass cockpit” avionics and the latest navigational, communications and fire-control systems.
Helmet-mounted targeting systems allow pilots to rapidly cue sensors or weapons and designate targets simply by looking at them.
And Boeing has been building new, stronger wings for the A-10.
With the ongoing wing replacements, the A-10 upgrades are expected to cost more than $2 billion, according to government estimates.
In contrast, the F-35 won’t get systems needed to use a key precision-guided ground attack missile — Raytheon’s Small Diameter Bomb II — until 2020.
SEQUESTRATION LOOMS OVER DEBATE
Lawmakers have resisted a new round of base closures and realignments for now, saying the last BRAC in 2005 didn’t save that much money. But experts say a new BRAC round is inevitable in the next few years.
In the meantime, D-M supporters worry that the Air Force will make cuts that could leave the base vulnerable.
“I think the biggest danger to communities like ours is what I call a BRAC without a BRAC,” said McSally.
The Pentagon and the armed services “just start atrophying missions at bases — they just start slowly cutting them, moving them around, consolidating them at other bases. And the next thing you know, you’ve got nothing really important at your base and if there ever is a BRAC, you’re the weakest link, the obvious one to take out.”
The A-10’s immediate future may hinge on whether Congress acts to forestall sequestration, automatic cuts that would take effect next fiscal year unless Congress keeps spending within certain limits.
Budget cuts and the threat of sequestration are driving a restructuring of all military services. For example, the Army has proposed cuts that by 2020 could cost Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista up to 2,700 of its roughly 5,300 military and civilian jobs.
Congress lessened sequestration cuts for fiscal 2014 and 2015, after some automatic reductions in 2013 prompted the Pentagon to impose civilian furloughs and other quick cost-saving measures.
“If we’re able to adjust or change or eliminate sequestration, the Air Force might be in a position to take a different approach,” says Shoopman, former commander of the Air Guard 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport.
“Until we get to the root cause of sequestration, the A-10 is always going to be in jeopardy, and it’s going to be a long struggle.”
Residents ready to rally hard against F-35 coming here
By David Wichner, Arizona Daily Star
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is to replace most of the nation’s front-line fighter jets over the next decade.
The Air Force plans to buy nearly 1,800, but it’s uncertain whether any will regularly fly in and out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
“I don’t see the F-35 being based here, at least anytime soon,” Arizona Sen. John McCain said during a meeting with the Star editorial board last August.
D-M was passed over when initial F-35 basing decisions were made in 2011. Luke Air Force Base in Glendale was selected as a training base and Marine Air Station Yuma was chosen as a base for the vertical-takeoff version, the F-35B.
If D-M is considered in the future, the Air Force would take into account its long runway, good flying weather and easy access to the nearby Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, a vast training area.
The Air Force would also assess noise and other effects of the jet, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.
That process would likely generate vehement opposition from some residents in the flight path who contend the F-35 is too loud and unproven for an urban air base.
Tucson Forward, a group formed to stop the F-35 from coming here, says the jets would make a swath of midtown unlivable because of noise and emissions.
The group says single-engine jets like the F-35 and the F-16 pose higher crash risks because they lack backup engines.
In 1978, a single-engine A-7D Corsair fighter from D-M crashed near the University of Arizona campus, killing two UA students.
Tucson Forward’s objections to the F-16 go beyond its engine. F-16s from the Air National Guard 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport visit D-M frequently for training, and a small squadron of Air Guard jets has been based at D-M since September 2001.
“It is extremely loud, and the ones here now are in violation of the law,” says Tucson Forward President Mary Terry Schiltz. She contends the Air Force never conducted the required environmental assessment of the fighter jet.
Tucson Forward objected when the Air National Guard’s 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport was identified as a candidate for the F-35 in 2009. The 162nd, which is a major training site for foreign F-16 pilots, also was passed over as an initial F-35 base.
Most recently, the group filed comments objecting to a planned expansion of visiting-plane training, including Operation Snowbird, which often brings louder jets. But on May 15, the Air Force issued a final decision to expand the operation at D-M after issuing a “finding of no significant impact” on the local environment.
Schiltz says her group is weighing its options, including a legal challenge.
She says D-M supporters should work to persuade the Air Force to find other uses for the base.
“We’re looking at alternative solutions to keep the base open,” she says. “It’s not our mission to try and get the base shut down.”
Dr. Jean-Paul Bierny, a retired radiologist and Tucson Forward supporter, says jet noise has gotten worse since he moved into the El Encanto neighborhood near Reid Park in 1971.
“It’s a matter of when aircraft noise gets so loud it affects long-established neighborhoods,” he said. “Who would want to retire here if you have these overflights of tremendously loud airplanes?”
AIR FORCE READY TO MOVE FORWARD
Experience elsewhere shows that the Air Force is sensitive to community concerns, but it is prepared to press ahead with its plans.
It settled a lawsuit filed in 2009 by Valparaiso, Florida — home to Eglin Air Force Base, where F-35 pilots train — that said noise would devastate the small city. The settlement calls for mitigation to minimize flyovers and sound from the F-35s.
A group of homeowners in Burlington, Vermont, has sued to prevent F-35s from being housed at the Air Guard base there, also because of noise.
Schiltz stopped short of saying Tucson Forward would sue to keep the F-35 from coming here but added, “We would seriously consider any options we have.”
D-M would likely get — at most — one F-35 squadron of 18 to 24 jets. But as the Air Force replaces most of the nation’s fighter jets, some may pass through D-M for training. Any shift to F-35s would require an environmental analysis under federal law.
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek says that while urban bases may have more community sensitivity to aircraft noise, each base and proposed mission are considered individually.
“I would not say there is any kind of preconceived decision,” she says. “You’ll look at all of the factors in the basing process: what criteria the major commands feel are important for that installation to have, and what attributes make it particularly suited from a mission standpoint.”
Base's billion-dollar economic input could dry up
By David Wichner, Arizona Daily Star
If A-10s stop flying from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and no new flying mission takes their place, Tucson would say goodbye to 2,000 or more pilots, maintenance airmen and women and support staff — and roughly $187 million a year.
If the base’s fleet of 14 EC-130 electronic-warfare planes is halved next year as the Air Force proposes, that would cost our economy another $62 million.
And those estimates are probably low because the base uses a conservative annual economic-impact model, says Alberta Charney, senior research economist with the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management.
Deep cuts at D-M would deal the economy a serious blow at a vulnerable time, and potentially curtail growth for years to come, economists say.
D-M employs about 9,000 military and civilian personnel. It pumps nearly $1 billion annually into the economy, with another $500 million coming from an estimated 19,000 military retirees who live near the base.
The economy wouldn’t collapse without D-M. The base's estimated economic impact represented about 3 percent of Tucson’s $35 billion annual gross domestic product in 2013.
But its closure would ripple across the economy, biting into the bottom lines of businesses, potentially lowering home values and increasing unemployment.
“It’s not just military and defense, but there is an ultimate impact on other related industries, as well as on businesses like auto dealers,” says David Godlewski, chairman of the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance.
D-M supports some local businesses directly. For example, it spent $232 million in 2013 on construction, services and materials, equipment and supplies, much of it sourced locally.
Some of the base’s economic impact is less direct but just as significant.
At certain apartment complexes near D-M, military tenants make up 20 percent of total renters, says Omar Mireles, executive vice president of HSL Properties, one of Tucson’s biggest apartment owners. About 75 percent of D-M’s roughly 7,500 military personnel live off base, and many of them rent.
Deep cuts at D-M would likely have a commensurate effect on rental rates and even home values, Mireles says: “The impact of D-M to the economy cannot be overstated.”
HSL manages 8,400 rental units in the Tucson area and employs more than 800 people. Mireles’ boss, Humberto Lopez, is a member of the DM50, whose goal is to support and protect the base.
Similarly, Thoroughbred Nissan, on East 22nd Street about a mile from D-M’s main gates, has operated for about 45 years, selling Datsuns to D-M airmen during the Vietnam War.
General manager Johnny Lohrman says airmen make up a significant chunk of sales and service, noting that Nissan offers discounts to military members.
“We do a lot of business with airmen from D-M and (soldiers from) Fort Huachuca,” he says.
On any given day, you’re also likely to see D-M airmen in their camouflage uniforms eating at local restaurants such as El Sur, which has two locations near base gates.
Isela Mejia, who owns the restaurants with her husband, Omar, says customers from the base comprise up to 30 percent of their clientele.
“It’s really important to our business,” she says. Closure or deep cuts at D-M “would definitely impact not only our business but lots of other local businesses.”
D-M’s presence has fostered a large military retiree community that represents an important economic bloc. The roughly 19,000 former D-M airmen and others who live in Tucson draw some $500 million in retirement pay annually.
The retirees — many of whom became familiar with Tucson while being stationed here — are able to take advantage of base amenities and services, including shopping and restaurants, health care, a golf course and various personal services. Military retirees have access to base facilities no matter the branch of the armed forces they served.
If not for the base, many would leave: An Air Force report during a round of base closures in the early 1990s estimated that up to 10 percent of local military retirees would move if D-M closed.
Lessons from Valdosta: Personal relationships are everything
By Sarah Garrecht Gassen, Arizona Daily Star
VALDOSTA, GEORGIA — The highway to Moody Air Force Base here, is named for Parker Greene. It leads to the headquarters the Parker Greene Base Support Center.
A large oil portrait of him hangs on the second floor.
“He has a better parking spot than I do here, at my headquarters building, and rightly so,” says Col. Chad Franks, the wing commander at Moody since 2013.
Parker Greene, or “Mr. Parker” as he’s known around here, is synonymous in south Georgia with support for the military. He’s a civilian who has never worn an Air Force uniform but knows every inch of Moody and visits every day.
Almost 40 years ago, then-Sen. Sam Nunn asked him to be Moody’s man in Washington and to look out for the base and for Valdosta, a smallish base in a smallish town in Lowndes County, about 20 miles north of the Florida line.
“He said, ‘If you’re one person, you’ll have access to the Pentagon that you wouldn’t have if you came up with 10 or 12 people,” Greene remembers. “And he said, ‘I know their attitude is, Oh Lord, how many is it? And then you’ve gotta tell a secretary to go down the hall and find a room available big enough for them to sit down.
“I go by myself. That way I can sit and they talk openly about some things that they know I don’t go back and tell,” Greene says. “It’s been proven for 38 years.”
"JUST LIKE HOME FOLKS"
The personal touch has made all the difference in Valdosta’s success as a military town.
When Greene walks the halls of the Pentagon and Capitol Hill, he visits with people he’s known for years. They have his phone number. He has theirs.
He makes sure everyone understands how valuable Moody and Valdosta are, and can be, to the Air Force and national security.
“Most of them know me and we’ve grown together over the years,” Greene says. “Maybe they came through here as a captain or a major and went on to become a general.”
Parker and his wife, Dr. Lucy Greene, get together with officers and their families. He calls the secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force chief of staff friends.
“We’re just like home folks,” he says.
Greene carries with him that taste of home. When he pays a call in Washington, he brings Georgia pecans. When a senior officer visits Moody, he makes sure nuts are waiting for the flight home.
He is paid by the city and county to advocate for Moody and Valdosta. His mission is to keep alive the connection between the Pentagon, Washington, Moody and Valdosta.
“Parker operates on a very, very strategic level, in ways that you don’t discuss over cocktails,” says Myrna H. Ballard, president of the Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce.
“YOU GET ATTACHED”
Greene may be the person everyone knows, or knows of, but the connection between Moody and Valdosta is deeper than one man.
“It looks like a spear,” Ballard says. “Parker Greene is the point of the spear, but he is not out there alone.”
Always at his side in the effort is his wife. The coffee place in the Parker Greene Base Support Center is called Lucy’s Corner. Together, they attend every base event.
“Dr. Lucy” hands out fabric softener sheets to the airmen to rub on their uniforms and hair — the scent keeps gnats away.
“It says we care about that airman – not just the military, but that person,” says Lt. Brianca Williams, who came to Moody from Tennessee.
Walking around Moody with “Mr. Parker,” it’s clear that his affection for the base is reciprocated. People of all ranks see him coming down the hall and do a U-turn to shake his hand and say hello. He knows names, remembers details, asks after families. He’s not working to protect an abstract institution — he’s working to protect its people.
Moody takes care of us, the nation and the world, so we take care of them, Valdostans say. The chamber hosts job fairs for military people coming out of the service, and some employers seek out military spouses to hire.
Wednesday is meatloaf day at Kings Grill in downtown. The small diner has a counter and stools, blue booths and a row of tables down the middle. Décor is early Elvis. Most Wednesdays you’ll find tables pushed together for airmen there for the special. Moody retirees organize the group, and buy lunch.
Moody personnel come in often. “Just about every time, somebody will pick up their tab,” says owner Pat Yeomans, whose family has owned Kings Grill since the 1970s.
Pat’s daughter Kim Suggs says Moody groups have been coming to the diner for as long as she can remember. Some of the regulars, like Steve, stick out. She has a photo of him somewhere, she says, interrupting her side work to look through shelves of photos and knickknacks, but she can’t find it.
He was transferred to Virginia but returned for a visit not long ago. He stopped in to say hello and ask if she could send him some meatloaf and blueberry crunch, because he sure misses it. She smiles.
“You get attached to them,” she says.
Those ties carry a benefit. Call it pragmatic hospitality.
The better experience airmen have in Valdosta, the chamber’s Ballard says, the more likely they are to stay or to come back.
“These are some extremely well-trained, well-educated, community-minded people,” she says. “Why in the world would we ever let them get away from us?”
Some officers could have retired earlier, but decided to wait because they had the opportunity to come back to Moody. And some, like Col. Franks, could have moved their families anywhere when they were deployed — including home to Louisiana — but chose to remain in Valdosta.
Col. Clarence Parker, who was wing commander from 1968-71 and quit flying four years ago at age 90, says that when he retired “a group of citizens from Valdosta came to me and asked me to retire here. I was a little surprised when they came to me.”
But he and wife Dorothy, who’ve been together since grade school in Houston, decided to stay. He joined a local bank and became chairman of the Airport Authority. The road to the terminal, which has Delta flights to Atlanta, bears his name.
Other than Parker Greene, who makes a better advocate for Moody and Valdosta than someone who knows both from the inside?
Franks, who oversees the 23rd Maintenance Group that has a squadron stationed at Tucson’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, says the relationship between Valdosta and Moody is closer than he’s seen at the 13 or 14 other bases where he’s been stationed.
“Every time there’s a deployment we have people come out here who want to see them off,” Franks says. “And every time they come back, they want to see them return.”
“I’ve never seen the relationship between the base and community that I’ve seen here. Anywhere.”
VALDOSTA GOES TO WASHINGTON
Former Moody personnel who choose to stay in Valdosta bring leadership skills and a career of military connections. Both are critical should the worst happen, as it did in the early 1990s when the base ended up on a military closure list.
Valdosta, which is a city proper but unofficially encompasses a five-county area of about 150,000 residents, was shocked when, on April 12, 1991, Moody showed up on the federal Base Realignment and Closure list.
Elected officials, retired senior military, civilian business leaders and residents worked every angle. They formed the Moody Support Committee. They phone-banked calls to Washington, sent letters, made visits. It was a full-court press.
Twenty months later Moody was spared, but the experience scared them. No one wanted to let that happen again. And nearly a quarter-century later they work every day to make sure it doesn’t.
The South Georgia Military Affairs Council, made up of elected and municipal officials, chambers of commerce and community and business leaders, goes to Washington every year. Members visit Air Force officials and Capitol Hill.
Valdosta City Manager Larry Hanson has gone on about 20 of the annual trips.
“We say, what can we do for the United States Air Force, and what can we do to help Moody? It’s never a reaction — it’s always thinking ahead.”
The military isn’t allowed to lobby, nor can it directly ask a community for something. So civilians need to know the base well enough, and be involved enough, to ask educated questions: Would this be helpful? What do you hear from your airmen about things to do in town? Are your airmen finding decent off-base housing? Any thoughts on the road leading to the base?
“A lot of communities get on the BRAC list and then take action,” says Hanson. “We’ve worked to never be on that list again. We meet and ask what about this, what about that? We brainstorm. This is a regional effort.”
That’s key. A united front is important.
The perfect example came last year. The Air Force let it be known it was conducting site suitability surveys at three bases for a mission to train Afghan pilots and maintenance personnel on A-29s. Moody was one of them.
Valdosta area leaders held a press conference to state publicly: Our community wants that mission. Elected officials and residents wrote letters of support. Bring those Afghan pilots to Moody. They, and any other mission, will be welcome. We want you here.
“It may not have had any impact whatsoever,” Wing Commander Col. Franks says, “but it was good to see because I knew that if Moody does get selected, at least I knew the local community will be there to help and will be supportive.”
Moody got the mission. It began in January and 30 Afghan pilots and 90 maintainers will be trained through 2018.
The Air Force won’t place a mission at a base simply because a community asks for it, nor will it rule out a base only because a community objects. These intangibles make a difference. How much? No one knows. But, Valdosta has decided, it’s too much of a risk to stay silent.
"OUR AIR FORCE BASE"
The Bible lesson at St. John AME Church one Sunday is, “Always Be Prepared.” It seems to fit Valdosta’s approach to Moody.
“You know, I always say we’ve got a microwave society,” Brother Nelson preaches. “We want to just flip the switch.” But life, and relationships, don’t work that way. Successful ones take time and effort.
“It’s always been a partnership,” says Dr. Samuel Taylor, an ob/gyn who works with base personnel. “If the base were to close down, it would take years and years for recovery.
“We should embrace another aspect, too, because people come from all over and bring a whole other aspect of living, so it’s from the social side, not just the economic side.”
Capt. Sarah Rose has been at Moody for three years, and before that was at Davis-Monthan.
“Valdosta is a very unique place. The degree of interest and involvement from the community is amazing,” she says. “In Tucson I was involved in the community, because I made myself involved.”
In Valdosta, an airman would have to work hard to not be involved.
I was trying the Georgia version of the Mexican hot dog at a taqueria across the street from Moody’s north gate, and watched as a man who’d just picked up his to-go order stopped to shake the hands of two pilots having lunch.
Hey, thank you for what you do. Thank you for being here.
Not a generic, “Thank you for your service.” But a personal, “Thank you for being here.”
Moody AFB isn’t “the” Air Force base. To Valdosta and the surrounding counties, it’s “our” Air Force Base.
I heard it again and again — from civilians, airmen, veterans. Hotel staff, neighbors, the group of women who chatted and exercised in their Baptist church rec room. They asked, what have you seen so far in Valdosta? Have you been out to our Air Force base yet?
During my February visit, an FA-18D Hornet from Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station crashes into the woods about 20 miles from Valdosta, 5 miles from the nearest town. Folks don’t seem alarmed by the proximity of a jet falling from the sky and the damage it could have done.
When I ask about the crash the first response is always about how glad they are that “our Moody people” got to the scene so quickly and helped the two-man crew who had parachuted and landed near a swamp.
It’s part of sharing your home with an Air Force base. Crissy Staley, of the Berrien Chamber of Commerce, lives in the flight path to Moody.
“We love to see them fly over — they’re part of our landscape.”
Moody shares, too.
In January Moody opened to the public Grassy Pond, its gorgeous 500-acre recreation area that includes a lake, campgrounds, rental cabins and picnic areas. It’s a half-hour drive south of the base, and until a few months ago was restricted to military and Department of Defense civilians.
Col. Franks says the opening made financial sense for the base, but it’s also good for the area. “I think it brings your base and your local community closer together.”
HELP GOES BOTH WAYS
On so many occasions, in so many ways, Valdosta and Moody are there for one another.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew decimated Homestead AFB near Miami. Personnel had been evacuated when the winds hit, but they returned to find their homes wiped out.
Of all the bases the Air Force could have called for help, it called Valdosta and Moody. They knew we’d get it done the right way, Parker Greene says.
More recently, a maintenance airman who was to deploy in a few weeks returned from a trip with his family to find someone had broken into their home and it had burned. He was told he could postpone his deployment to take care of the situation.
Someone at Moody called Greene, and help started to arrive. Within a week and a half the family had received $9,000 in donations. The airman asked people to stop; it was too much.
He deployed with his group as scheduled.
“Our airmen know that when they deploy that if anything were to happen, that their families would be taken care of,” Col. Franks says. “I’m convinced that that’s a part of why we were able to maintain our morale. And then our airmen are focused on one thing and that’s getting the mission done.”
THE RED CARPET
If Parker Greene is Valdosta’s handshake with Moody, the Red Carpet Event is the hug.
The tradition began 50 years ago in a private fishing lodge on the shore of Ocean Pond. You won’t find it if you don’t already know it’s there.
Hang a right down what looks like an alley in a residential neighborhood and all of a sudden the lake appears and you feel tiny, driving on a twisty dirt path under the cypress trees laden with hanging Spanish moss. The sun sets over the lake and tiki torches light the way.
The fishing lodge is an old two-story white house with creaky wooden floors and a screened-in porch. The hosts serve the Ocean Pond’s signature Swamp Salad at a table in the corner.
The party, held three or four times a year, began as a way for elected, civic and business leaders from the Valdosta area to welcome new airmen and their families. It’s relaxed — Moody polo shirts instead of uniforms — it’s fun, and it’s a way for everyone to get to know one another. Those relationships can develop into friendships now, and maybe a job lead down the road.
The Valdosta/Lowndes County Chamber organized the Red Carpet parties until three years ago, when it became Red Carpet of Georgia, a nonprofit that supports Moody and the Air Force.
“It’s everybody working together for a common goal of keeping the base and serving the airmen,” says Michael Jetter, the group’s past chair. He co-owns a cigar bar called Stogies in downtown Valdosta.
The group puts on the party with sponsorships and donations. Anything extra helps buy gift cards for airmen who can’t go home for Christmas.
“It’s pretty special down here,” says Col. Pete Breed, who attended his second Red Carpet in February. “You’re not just a local chamber of commerce dude, you’re someone I see all the time.”
The Swamp Salad is famous — anyone who has been to a Red Carpet Event will ask if you’ve had it. And when you say no, not yet, they’ll chuckle and say, well, you just have to try it.
For the record, Swamp Salad is sliced onions, diced Roma tomatoes, dill pickle chips, apple cider vinegar and brown sugar that’s layered in a large bucket. Let it sit overnight to blend flavors, and serve it on a saltine with a cheddar cheese cube.
It’s true. You do just have to try it. But it’s something you’ll never forget, a common thread of Moody and Valdosta that you can talk about with anyone in the world who’s been to a Red Carpet.
“This is something that’s been built over decades,” says Tim Harris, the chair. He owns KFC restaurants in town. He watches as newcomers chat with folks from the surrounding communities. Red Carpet isn’t the kind of party where you stick with those you know.
Everything at the Red Carpet is steeped in the region and relationships. The tomato casserole on the buffet table is the recipe from Sara B. Vallotton that’s been used for every party — her secret was to use croutons for the topping instead of crackers.
Her son, Rouse, helps host the event. Dessert is brittle made with local peanuts. I was informed it’s best to carry the brittle in a cup, because otherwise it takes up valuable plate real estate you could use for more butter beans. Second helpings aren’t optional.
Red Carpet leaders give officers leaving Moody their own framed drawing of Ocean Pond. Those mementos hang in some influential offices.
After dinner the commanders introduce their new airmen and their families. Several have come to Moody from the Royal Air Force in England.
Dr. Lucy Greene leans over my shoulder from behind.
“A South Georgia town can be so provincial, but this keeps us cosmopolitan,” she whispers.
Moody brings the world to Valdosta, and Valdosta makes Moody home.
Forging strong bonds between Tucson, Davis-Monthan
By David Wichner, Arizona Daily Star
In a community of nearly 1 million people, Tucson’s military roots don’t always show.
But they exist — and they’re deep.
Supporters of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base hold an annual picnic for active and retired airmen and their families. They offer marriage support classes to couples separated by deployment. They link up young airmen with local volunteers who offer homes away from home.
Boosters are doing all they can to strengthen relationships — both with D-M and in Washington — to assure the base’s long-term future. Mayor Jonathan Rothschild is meeting with the secretary of the Air Force this summer in Washington, D.C.
“Our message is very clear — we support any flying mission the Air Force wants to put here,” says Brian Harpel, president of the DM50, a 29-year-old group of local businesspeople who advocate for the base.
Last year, the DM50, the Tucson Metro Chamber and the Southern Arizona Leadership Council joined forces to form the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance, an advocacy group for D-M and other installations in the region.
“I think there’s just a heightened sense of awareness,” says SADA Chairman David Godlewski. That’s especially true now that D-M’s primary flying mission, the A-10, is facing retirement and another round of base closings is a possibility in the next few years. “The defense alliance is trying to coalesce community support in light of the threats to D-M.”
A PARKER GREENE FOR TUCSON
In April, SADA and the DM50 partnered to hire a consultant and Washington lobbyist to advocate for D-M over the next three years.
The city of Tucson, Pima County and the DM50 are each chipping in $180,000 to find someone with strong contacts on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon.
The right person eventually could become the face of Southern Arizona’s lobbying efforts — Tucson’s version of Parker Greene, who has headed the defense of Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Georgia, for nearly 40 years. (See accompanying story.)
The closest thing Tucson has had to Greene is Dorothy Finley, a beer distributor who died in 2013 at the age of 92. A founding member of the DM50, Finley devoted much of her time to lobbying on behalf of the base, both locally and in Washington.
A childhood-development center at D-M is named for Finley. In 2004, the Pentagon awarded her the Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher Distinguished Civilian Humanitarian Award for her tireless efforts to promote and protect the base. Then-Navy Secretary Gordon England called her “the first lady of Davis-Monthan.”
The base’s primary advocacy role is now filled by retired military officers, business and civic groups and elected officials that have teamed up to protect D-M, says Ron Shoopman, president of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council.
But just as important as a strong and supportive team is getting the broader community to recognize the importance of D-M and to advocate for the base, says Shoopman, a retired Air Force brigadier general.
“It is our belief that the bigger the tent, the more impressive it is to those in the Congress and the Pentagon,” he says.
As part of its efforts, SADA last fall launched “Mission Strong,” a campaign to — among other things — urge citizens to write Congress and the Pentagon in support of D-M and other installations in the region.
Part of the reason to create SADA, supporters said at the time, was to counteract a negative impression created by critics of D-M’s aircraft noise.
Opponents have waged a letter-writing campaign to the Pentagon and Congress saying they oppose basing F-35s here. One group, Tucson Forward, contends F-35s are too loud for an urban air base and that having them here would ruin the quality of life for many residents in or near D-M’s flight paths.
The group and other activists cite the potential for health problems including hearing loss, as well as environmental and safety concerns; the F-35 is new and has no backup if its single engine fails.
In March 2014, SADA released a survey concluding that more than 90 percent of the region’s residents support military installations here, while 70 percent agreed that the benefits of a strong military presence outweigh the noise generated by louder aircraft.
Tucson Forward criticized that survey for failing to focus on neighborhoods most affected by jet noise and for neglecting to tell respondents about louder planes that could come here, such as the F-35.
Last November Tucson Forward released its own survey of homeowners near the base, showing that 57 percent oppose replacing D-M’s fleet of relatively quiet A-10s with louder planes including F-16s, F-18s, F-22s and F-35s.
The DM50 criticized the opt-in mail survey as misleading and invalid.
Both surveys found overwhelming support for D-M and the military — along with a significant number of people who say noise is a concern.
In Tucson Forward’s survey, 83 percent of respondents strongly support keeping D-M open at its current operation levels. And SADA’s survey found that 23 percent of those living near the base say noise from military aircraft has a disruptive and negative effect on their quality of life.
Meanwhile, complaints and inquiries about D-M flight operations — D-M calls them “concerns” — are up in recent years. In 2014 D-M fielded 888 concerns, up from 703 in 2013 when budget cuts limited some flight training. So far this year, the base has received 932, though nearly 60 percent were from one person, according to D-M.
SHOW OF SUPPORT
D-M's commander, Col. James Meger, trained at the base as a young pilot in the early 1980s and returned as vice commander from 2011 to 2013 before deploying to Afghanistan.
He met his wife — a Tucson native and University of Arizona alumna — at the former Cactus Moon country bar. The couple has three children and recently celebrated 20 years of marriage.
In the base’s top job since August 2014, Meger says he’s always felt welcome in Tucson.
“There’s been some places I’ve been to where you don’t get the kind of warm reception,” Meger says. “I always felt part of the community, and I think a lot of the airmen make that connection here, too.”
The Tucson Metro Chamber’s Military Affairs Committee has run D-M support programs for decades, but added more recently.
In early 2014, the committee and D-M rolled out the Community and Military Partnership, connecting local families with airmen who are single and under age 24.
“This was really in response to the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and suicides that we saw happening across the base,” says Ellen Jimenez, chairwoman of the Military Affairs Committee.
In January, at the onset of the deployment of more than 1,000 D-M airmen, the chamber committee launched a “deployment farewell” with bags of snacks, puzzles and books to make long overseas flights more bearable.
Jimenez, director of sales at the Viscount Suite Hotel, said the chamber is working on a program to welcome airmen as they return from deployments.
“We have 1,100 families that we need to keep an eye out for,” she says.
That kind of support means the world to young airmen who may be thousands of miles from home, says Master Sgt. David Womack of the 355th Operations Group at D-M.
For example, Raytheon Missile Systems — the region’s largest private employer and a government contractor — is a major sponsor of Operation Warm Heart, an Air Force charitable program.
Womack says the company has donated more than $200,000 over the past two years to buy commissary gift cards and Christmas gifts for the families of more than 100 airmen each year.
Helping families of deployed airmen is particularly important, Womack says.
“Sometimes this is the first time they’ve been so far away from their family. When that military member leaves, that support that backfills them is pretty important,” he says. “They feel that they matter, what they do matters, especially for the kids.”
Womack says, he, too, has felt the love in Tucson since arriving here in 2012.
Womack — who oversees morale, welfare and conduct of his unit’s enlisted airmen — says Tucson offers the greatest community support for airmen he’s experienced in seven base assignments over his 20-year Air Force career.
“I’ve never seen the amount of thank-yous and support that we get from the local community,” he says. “Whether it’s in a restaurant eating lunch or breakfast or dinner — you can even be in civilian clothes, just with that military haircut — they thank you anyway. They know who you are.”
Groups provide support systems for D-M families
The nonprofit DM50, an invitation-only group with about 70 members, has raised more than $1 million for programs benefiting DM airmen and their families in its 29 years.
Among the group’s events and programs are a popular all-day annual picnic for active and retired airmen and their families; D-M Day at a University of Arizona football game and tailgate event; and a car giveaway to military families.
With the Tucson Community Cares Foundation, the DM50 also sponsors Operation COPE, a semiannual program to help families of airmen deal with deployments, including social activities and marriage enrichment education.
The DM50 also has raised more than $100,000 for the Kachina Fund, a discretionary account directed by the D-M commander for projects that improve life on base. The fund has paid for new park ramadas, flowers for new mothers, and improvements at D-M’s Child Development Center such as a shade structure and protective matting.
Military Affairs Committee — Tucson Metro Chamber (tucsonchamber.org)
Tucson business leaders had much to do with D-M becoming a military base in the 1920s, when the chamber launched a military-affairs committee that still supports D-M. Its activities include:
An annual “Thanksgiving Dorm Bash” to host airmen unable to travel home during the holidays.
Right Start to welcome and brief newcomers, familiarizing them with Tucson and military-friendly businesses.
Operation Otter Pop, which provides monthly donations of frozen juice pops, cold water, hot cocoa and baked goods.
A holiday gift collection for deployed airmen and matching young, single airmen with local families.
Tucson Community Cares Foundation (tucsoncommunitycares.org)
Founded in 2007 by the local chapter of the Air Force Association, the DM50 and the Tucson Metro Chamber, the nonprofit foundation runs several programs to help deployed airmen and their families.
“Adopt-A-BAirman” provides teddy bears with voice-recording chips inside to help young children cope with a parent’s absence. Airmen record personal messages that play when the bear is squeezed.
Junior Expeditionary Force offers children of airmen a mock deployment, with educational experiences provided by military security forces, medical personnel, dining facilities, chapel, explosive ordnance, fire department and fitness activities in a tent city. When they return on a simulated flight, the kids enjoy a “welcome home” celebration with refreshments.
Arizona Daily Star Sportsmen’s Fund Send a Kid to Camp (azsendakidtocamp.org)
Since 2007, Send a Kid to Camp, funded mostly by donations from Arizona Daily Star readers, has paid for local children to go to weeklong, overnight Girl and Boy Scout and YMCA camps for free. This year, Triangle Y Ranch Camp in Oracle is one of 23 camp locations in 19 states to partner with Camp Corral and provide summer camp for military children. Children of wounded, disabled or fallen military service members get priority. Send a Kid to Camp will pay for 75 Southern Arizona children to attend this camp from June 28 to July 3.
Camp Corral week is full, but the YMCA has openings during nearly every week of camp for children from military families whose guardian is an active service member. Interested families should call YMCA camp office manager Kim Wilson at 884-0987.
Lessons from Las Vegas: Protect your base at all costs
By Sarah Garrecht Gassen, Arizona Daily Star
LAS VEGAS, NEV. — Las Vegas is built on a culture of yes – yes to fun, yes to the big splurge, yes to going all in. But a significant part of the area’s economic stability depends on a willingness to say “yes” to the military by saying “no” to others.
The tightrope walk is done to preserve and protect two things: the Las Vegas area’s reputation as a military-friendly place to visit and live; and the longterm sustainability and local economic integration of Nellis Air Force Base, about 15 miles north of the Strip.
Elected officials, the chamber of commerce, business interests and civilians wanting to support the military all play a part in protecting the people and military viability of the 2.9 million acres that make up Nellis Air Force Base, Creech Air Force Base and the Nevada Test and Training Range.
“This is where we protect the free world, right here,” says Tom Collins, a Clark County Commissioner for the past 10 years. His District B includes Nellis, which he’s watched grow since he played in the desert near there as a boy. He’s made protecting it a priority.
“It’s important to have a safe place when you’re defending world freedom.”
DANGERS OF ENCROACHMENT
Encroachment is the fastest way for a community to render a military installation vulnerable. Nellis is on the northeast side of the metro area, and its main entrance is across the street from apartments, restaurants and stores. It’s flanked on two sides by neighborhoods and bisected by a main thoroughfare. But drive a few minutes northeast on North Las Vegas Boulevard and you’re in the desert.
On the west side of the boulevard is the immense Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which hosts NASCAR and NHRA events, an exotic car racing school and the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Its grandstands rise from the desert; fleets of portable toilets are lined up in an empty parking lot, ready to go. Vast lots await RVs.
Developers wanted to build luxury apartments or condos at the Speedway. The financial appeal is obvious — people who come to race, or watch the races, or can afford to drop $1,500 to drive a Lamborghini 20 laps — have money to spend.
But a high-rise residential development that close to the base was a no-go, says Commissioner Collins. Anything that raises questions or could interfere with what Nellis does — planes fly with live ammunition — is a conversation going nowhere, he says. The deal never got off the ground.
“Can you imagine all the heat I got from the race car people?” he asks. “You’ve got to look at the bigger picture.”
Residential projects aren’t the only threat, he says. Protecting the air space from potential flying hazards is key, too.
“There was an outfit that wanted to get food scraps from around Las Vegas, spread them out to dry in the desert out there, then scoop it up and make recycled food pellets for livestock,” Collins says. “I said no — it would attract birds and that’s dangerous.”
Nellis is in Clark County near the city of North Las Vegas, a collection of older casinos, restaurants and lower-to-middle-income neighborhoods — nothing like the Strip’s massive, glitzy resort casinos. The city boomed, overbuilt, and busted when property values collapsed.
Municipal financial need could make the allure of revenue and jobs that any development could bring all the more tempting. Local government enforces land use regulations around the military installations as a failsafe.
North Las Vegas is pinning its hopes on the 5,000-acre APEX development, an industrial park northeast of Nellis. The city is using tax incentives passed to help Reno land a Tesla factory to attract companies and help get water to the property.
The proximity to Nellis affects what businesses would be a good fit for APEX, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee says. A company could manufacture but not fly drones because of the air space conflicts. He says medical marijuana growing operations would be a good fit.
Any project’s upside must be weighed against potential to harm Nellis — however remote.
“We don’t want to give them (the Department of Defense) even the scent of doing something to Nellis,” Collins says. “You don’t want it to die a death of a thousand cuts.”
Local businesses are well aware of the limitations around Nellis, says Lisa Beckley, who heads the Military Affairs Committee of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce. She runs a business consultancy.
“If you want to do something in that area, you’re going to get schooled real quick,” she says.
Nellis is a point of red, white and blue regional pride, but it also comes down to the green.
Roughly 40,000 people have an active duty, civilian, dependent, retired or reservist connection to a branch of the military in the greater Las Vegas area. Taken together, that’s an annual economic impact of more than $5 billion, according to a 2012 analysis by the 99th Comptroller Squadron at Nellis.
The base expanded by about 1,400 jobs in the most recent base-closure round a decade ago. The military and civilian workforce is about 9,500, making it one of the largest employers in Nevada.
“It’s a valued commodity and an industry unto itself,” North Las Vegas Mayor Lee says. “We love our country, we want to protect our country. But it’s also a business.”
BUSINESSES FEEL ‘INDEBTED’ TO MILITARY
In March the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee hosted an all-day seminar on how to do business with the military and federal government. Forty-one business owners heard military procurement officers and federal agency representatives explain where to find requests for bids, how to manage paperwork and what programs the government has for specific groups of business owners – such as veterans or those in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
The takeaway advice? Make the military part of the business you already do. The federal government is a good customer. Beckley helped organize the workshop, emulating those she did several years ago with the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, before it merged into the Las Vegas Metro Chamber.
“There have been people who have done some pretty substantial business with the Air Force over the years,” Beckley says.
The chamber approaches helping the military installation as it would a business member, she says.
“It’s about awareness and knowledge, and lets the military know there is business out there that wants to partner with them.”
The military is an important market demographic. Most military personnel from Nellis live off base, says Col. Charlie Perham, and 60 percent of those live in the northwest metro area. The installation also serves as a magnet for retired military who like the familiarity of the culture amid a larger city, with the amenities of a nearby base.
Many businesses give military discounts, but some go beyond and respond to immediate needs of airmen.
Mick McCoy produces “B – A Tribute to The Beatles” at Planet Hollywood Miracle Mile, and performs, usually as Paul McCartney. He’s organized and produced concerts to raise money for veteran groups, and for two weeks last year he gave free admission to military families. He donated about 1,200 tickets. General admission is $60.
“I truly feel indebted to our military,” McCoy says. “It’s mostly guys, young guys, who’ve come home from a deployment and what they went through was traumatizing. They’ve been away from their families and don’t know how to start the conversation.
“The Beatles are great because everyone loves them — they can share that experience together, and talk about it and start rebuilding their family,” he says. “So if we can be this conduit, to help bring them together, we want to help.”
That sort of business support is key to a military installation and its people, says Tony Muñoz, who retired from the Air Force and uses his logistics background to help connect veterans in need with local nonprofits.
“Mick McCoy – he’s the model for what the business community should be doing,” Munoz says.
McCoy, and Tony and Hilda Munoz, are part of a group formed last year after North Las Vegas Mayor Lee asked them to help revive a tradition: Nellis Appreciation Day.
Armed Forces & Military Veterans Appreciation Inc. put on a large picnic last May. Food and entertainment, including from McCoy, was donated and every military family ate for free.
Co-chairwoman Laura Coleman and her husband have owned the Poker Palace Casino about four miles from Nellis for 41 years. It was an Air Force bar in the beginning, but that changed as the Colemans added gaming and a restaurant.
The Colemans support the military and, like any successful business owners, look for opportunity. A Poker Palace restaurant employee — a veteran — suggested they market to the foreign allied military personnel who visit four times a year for Red Flag, the air-to-air combat training. Pilots often finish the exercise near midnight, and there’s nowhere for them to eat.
What if the Poker Palace stayed open all night during Red Flag with a menu geared to the allied military personnel? Coleman could probably even prepare kosher meals in her restaurant’s kitchen. It’s something to think about, she says.
Richard Cherchio has been thinking, too — about housing. He’s the other co-chair of Armed Forces & Military Veterans Appreciation Inc. and is newly elected to the North Las Vegas City Council.
Military people looking to settle down need to know they’re wanted there, he says. The picnic last year helped, he says, but you can never do enough.
The housing boom has cooled, he notes, but developments are still going up. Maybe a developer could design and market neighborhoods near the big VA hospital as “veteran-friendly,” he says, similar to an active-living retirement community.
A smart business idea, perhaps, but also one that extends a welcome mat.
How Tucson is protecting D-M
By David Wichner, Arizona Daily Star
Supporting Davis-Monthan Air Force Base can be as small as thanking airmen for their service.
Or it can be as large as buying land to prevent encroachment.
That’s exactly what Pima County hopes to do by asking voters to spend $5 million to buy 232 acres of private and state land near the base.
Also, local governments and military boosters are forming an alliance to pool resources and hire a lobbyist to advocate for D-M in Washington, D.C.
Protecting the base has always been key to the Air Force keeping it here, but it’s becoming crucial in a time of defense budget cuts and the prospect of a new round of base closings.
Efforts to preserve bases tend to increase with the threat of closures, says Tim Ford, CEO of the Washington-based Association of Defense Communities.
The nonprofit group — made up of civilian military support groups, local governments and consultants — sees its conference attendance spike during base-closing rounds.
The DM50 has been active in the Association of Defense Communities for years. Like other groups, it has been more active of late, Ford says.
“They’re becoming engaged,” he says, “and that’s a good thing.”
BRINGING IN EXPERTS
With D-M’s primary flying mission — the A-10 fighter jet — slated for retirement, the timing is right to bring in expert help to protect the base, says David Godlewski, chairman of the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance and president of the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association.
The DM50, a group of business people who support the base, along with the county and the city plan to hire a consultant to help develop a strategy to preserve D-M and a lobbyist who will be the face of the effort in Washington. Both can help attract a new flying mission in case of another round of Base Realignment and Closure cuts, also called BRAC, Godlewski says.
The DM50, the city and the county each has pledged $180,000 to the initial, three-year effort. The hope is to extend the program far longer.
The alliance invited more than 25 firms and individuals to submit proposals. Godlewski won’t share how many did so, but says response from both local and national firms was good. A consulting or lobbying contract, or both, could be in place as soon as the next two months, he says.
“When you realize as a community that you need a lobbyist, too often it’s too late,” he says. “While we’ve had these types of consultants in previous rounds of BRAC, we need to be in a position whether or not a BRAC process has begun. Based on what we know, we’re very well-positioned to be prepared should that begin.”
For the past 15 years, the city and county have kept developers from building homes in D-M’s southern flight approach “paddle,” a wedge of land stretching several miles where noise and crash potential is higher.
Pima County has taken that a step further by working to acquire land to limit urban encroachment. In 2004, the county used $10 million in voter-approved bonds to buy 461 acres near D-M.
In March, base officials asked the county for help securing long-term rights to land D-M has been leasing since the 1950s “to help secure base operations.”
So in a bond proposal voters will decide this November, the county is asking for $5 million to buy the 232 acres D-M leases about two miles south of its main runway. That includes 133 acres of state land and nine parcels of private property encompassing 99 acres. The state lease expired in 2013; the nine private leases expire in September 2016.
The county plans to lease the land to D-M at nominal or no cost, saving the Air Force more than $380,000 a year.
Reducing costs could help convince the Air Force that D-M is worth keeping in case of another round of base closures, says John Moffatt, Pima County’s director of strategic planning.
“When you’re looking at a possible BRAC, we’re just trying to clear these miscellaneous expenses out of the way,” he says.
The county also has applied for partial funding of the land buys through the state Military Installation Fund, which was created in 2004. Any state funding would offset the amount of bonds needed, Moffatt says.
Another deal recommended for funding through the state Military Installation Fund is the purchase of 33 acres about five miles from D-M’s runway. The land is owned by Rocking K Holdings LP, an affiliate of Diamond Ventures, which wants $843,750 for the property.
The state Military Affairs Commission approved the Rocking K land deal in 2013, but no money was available then. The fund now has about $3.6 million, which will be offered to owners of seven parcels near military installations around the state. Offers will be made in order of priorities set by the commission, until the money runs out, says Travis Schulte, legislative liaison for the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs.
The Rocking K purchase is second on the list. The land is in the paddle considered to be a high risk for noise and crashes.
UNIFIED VISION IS KEY
Beyond lobbying and land buys, local supporters of D-M say the final factor in protecting the base is strong and visible support.
They fear that could be threatened by complaints from residents who object to noise from the base’s jets.
As chairwoman of Tucson’s Military Community Relations Committee, Blenman-Elm Neighborhood resident Alice Roe frequently finds herself refereeing heated debates between D-M backers and neighborhood critics.
The committee, created in 2007, was the result of recommendations by the Military Community Compatibility Committee, formed in 2004 with the help of the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution at the Morris K. Udall Foundation. Its mission was to seek community dialogue and reach consensus recommendations on issues including land use and noise.
Roe, who in 1975 moved to the Blenman-Elm Neighborhood just east of what is now Banner-University Medical Center, blames poor land-use planning that allowed developers to build near the base for years.
“This is the legacy of the ’50s that we’re dealing with today,” she says.
The committee she chairs is an advisory body and only makes recommendations on issues on which it reaches consensus — once even entertaining a motion to dissolve. Roe says the committee and the process that created it are worth keeping.
“I feel very strongly that this dialogue needs to happen,” she says.
Over the past decade, the Air Force has made several operational changes to limit noise over the most populous areas, including taking off and landing at the largely unpopulated southeast end of the base and raising approach altitudes.
“We try not to take off over the city to the north, and generally that works out great for us, because the winds favor a southern departure, says D-M’s commander, Col. James Meger.
About 80 percent of D-M’s flights take off and land from the south, but when the wind shifts and federal air traffic controllers must move runway operations at Tucson International Airport to the north, D-M must follow suit.
With the base hemmed in by the Santa Catalina and Rincon mountains, some of those fixes are starting to reach their limits, he adds.
“I’m trying to make sure we’re a good partner with the community and then I’m balancing that with what I need to do to execute the mission requirements that I’m given.”
It’s crucial that Tucsonans know what a good economic partner the Air Force is to the region — and understand how critical it is to keep the base here, says Brian Harpel, president of the DM50.
“I think the single most important thing we can do is educating people on the importance of D-M to the local economy,” he says. “I do think community support is very, very important, as well as relationships not only with the Pentagon but with our congressional delegation.”
All of that will work to the benefit not just of Davis-Monthan, but of the entire Tucson area, Harpel says.
“A community with a unified vision, and all the attributes we have here — I like our chances.”
City, county look to partner with D-M through new program
By David Wichner, Arizona Daily Star
More military communities are forging partnerships with their local bases on everything from garbage pickup to use of solar arrays.
Some bases have teamed with nearby communities for years, but in 2013 Congress sanctioned “P4 agreements” through which state and local governments share services, usually to increase efficiency and save the military money.
In Tucson, Air Force officials have been leading meetings to identify partnerships that could help Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the community. After three sessions to brainstorm and prioritize ideas, six possibilities have emerged:
Work with the UA and community colleges to identify and fill internship positions requiring key skills needed at D-M.
Team up with the University of Arizona and local heritage groups so airmen can practice and maintain foreign-language skills.
Work with local, state and federal first responders to improve communications among agencies.
Partner with city and county parks and recreation departments to share use of D-M facilities, including the Mirage Club and conference center, pools, sports fields and outdoor equipment.
Work with the UA’s Valley Fever Center of Excellence and the College of Agriculture to study the relationship between the respiratory disease and turf grass, focusing on the health of Air Force working dogs.
Use students from local medical programs to play roles and provide other support at D-M’s annual Angel Thunder combat search-and-rescue training exercise.
The new partnership authority can help both the base and the community, says D-M’s commander, Col. James Meger.
“That was a great thing Congress did, to kind of break down some of the stovepipes and prohibitive language that was in some of the laws,” Meger says. “Because everyone realizes it’s better when we’re more integrated. It’s more efficient and more effective.”
The Air Force’s Community Partnership, which includes a step-by-step brainstorming and prioritization process, is a way to find and formalize new opportunities between two public entities — the Air Force and a government — or the Air Force and a private organization or company. (The name P4 stands for public-public, public-private.)
“Maybe we’ve not been looking or flipping over all the rocks that we need to, to see what else we can do to integrate better, because there are things that just work fantastic,” Meger says.
The base already works with the city on some services, including trash and recycling pickup, and it links in with Pima County’s wastewater system. Though D-M has its own security forces and fire department, it uses off-base ambulance services.
“I have two stoplights on base. Do I need all the people to maintain and run two stoplights?” Meger asks.
He cited a huge solar array built on base in 2013 that provides more than 35 percent of D-M’s power and saves the base some $500,000 annually.
“It’s a huge win for us, huge win for the environment, huge win for the local contractors and agencies,” Meger says.
David Godlewski, chairman of the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance, says such partnerships can provide tangible community support that could prove invaluable when the Pentagon looks at consolidating bases.
“It’s something that’s still evolving, but I think it’s going to be key here,” he says.
Defense communities across the nation are looking for ways to use the new partnership authority.
In March, some 350 government leaders, consultants and military officials at an Association of Defense Communities conference toured a pioneering military-community partnership at the Presidio of Monterey, California, home to the Pentagon’s Defense Language Institute.
Through a partnership with the Army, which runs the Presidio, the city provides an array of infrastructure and services, including facilities and roads maintenance, fire protection and pest control.
A 2000 Army audit showed the arrangement saved the Army 41 percent of its costs for such services, or about $2.5 million.
For example, Monterey provides building maintenance with 35 employees, eliminating the need for 70 Army positions. When an influx of students created a hot water shortage in some dorms, city maintenance staffers retrofitted rather than replaced water tanks, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars, city maintenance supervisor Jon Anderson says.
Working to replace failed electronic door locks, Anderson’s staff discovered a pile that had been replaced at some $700 apiece. An employee figured out how to fix many of them simply by replacing an electronic part for about $70, Anderson says.
The value of the partnership goes beyond maintenance to how the Presidio interacts with the community. When a new access procedure was expected to create long lines outside the Presidio gates, the city modified traffic signals and lanes to minimize problems.
“GIANT SUCKING SOUND”
While the Monterey Model has been called a success, you needn’t drive far to see what happens when major military bases are shuttered.
Just a few miles north of the Presidio, boarded-up barracks still overlook the grounds of the former Fort Ord, which the Pentagon shut in 1994.
“When it closed, 33,000 people left — you could hear the giant sucking sound,” says Fred Meurer, a city services consultant and former Monterey city manager.
Much of the land has been redeveloped into a branch of California State University, a state coastal park and a national monument featuring miles of recreational trails. But issues including old munitions cleanup, water, and environmental concerns have stalled some major redevelopments for years.
LESSONS FOR OTHERS
During the Tucson partnership meetings, groups helped winnow a list of 40 ideas. Some, such as installing a wastewater treatment plant on base, were dropped because of their cost and difficulty. Others, such as letting the public use base facilities like the golf course, might require essentially moving D-M’s fence line.
“Obviously a big concern is always security, but there are ways we can coordinate for that — I mean, we have contractors on our installation every day; the city is on our installation every day,” Meger says.
Community partnerships can give the Pentagon reasons to keep a base, Monterey’s Meurer says, but they must have value. The Air Force needs to make careful decisions about which partnerships make sense.
Just because something is cheaper, D-M’s Meger says, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better.
Lessons from Clovis, New Mexico: Know your assets, and sell them
By Sarah Garrecht Gassen, Arizona Daily Star
CLOVIS, N.M. — Cannon Air Force Base, about 10 miles of farmland west of Clovis, New Mexico, has almost doubled its personnel and is in the midst of a $1 billion construction boom.
It is home to the 27th Special Operations Wing, commonly known as the Air Commandos.
And it could have been in Tucson.
A decade ago, the base — and, by extension, Clovis and nearby Portales — appeared doomed. The Air Force had recommended that Cannon be closed, a fate that’s nearly impossible to escape once put in motion.
Tucson had hoped the same Base Realignment and Closure process that threatened Clovis would bring significant growth to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
Instead, D-M was spared but stayed roughly the same size. And within the next two years, Cannon shifted from a fighter base to an Air Force Special Operations base.
Its quiet competition for that mission? Davis-Monthan.
Cannon beat out D-M on nine of the selection criteria, including local community support and lack of encroachment. On the other two categories, the bases tied.
Cannon’s success took a combination of smart politicking, good timing, community organizing and effective strategy. But it all boiled down to this:
Know what your community has to offer the military, and work furiously to promote it.
The call to Clovis came on May 13, 2005.
The news was worse than bad: Cannon Air Force Base was on the Department of Defense BRAC closure list.
“It was a normal Friday morning. And then I got a call from media asking for my reaction to being on the BRAC list,” says City Manager Joe Thomas. “That’s how I found out.”
The call confirmed the worst fears of residents in the small towns on the Llano Estacado, or high plains, of eastern New Mexico. They rely on Cannon for about a third of their regional economy.
Close the base, and you close the community. Property values plummet, jobs dry up, there’s no one to buy shoes at the shoe store. Families pull up stakes and go.
“No one would be spared if Cannon were to close,” says Clovis Mayor David Lansford.
The folks of Clovis and Portales weren’t going to let that happen, even though the Department of Defense said the base had a 13 percent chance of escaping shutdown, says Chase Gentry of the Clovis Industrial Development Corporation.
Clovis and Portales, with their Curry and Roosevelt counties, put up about $1 million to fight the closure. They hired a consultant.
They never made a Plan B.
KEEP, NOT SAVE
Community leaders made a crucial decision early on that was key to their success.
Lobbying to “Save Cannon” would emphasize the base’s importance to Clovis and Portales. Instead, they chose the word “keep.”
“It’s about keeping it for the entire country,” Clovis Mayor Lansford says.
The Operation Keep Cannon logo was everywhere. Yellow T-shirts, billboards, yard signs, stickers. You can still see them, weathered on truck bumpers.
It would have been easy to focus only on how much Clovis needed the base because it’s easy to see what Clovis doesn’t have. There are few chain stores or restaurants. There isn’t a night life. Until last November the closest Starbucks was two hours away and in another state, although now there’s one on base.
The wind blows fiercely, up to 60 mph, but usually not in a way that hinders takeoff and landing. The base’s newcomer briefing includes a warning to know the wind direction before opening a door so you don’t smash your fingers. So many tumbleweeds blew in from the plains last summer that they stacked up against homes and trapped people inside.
The area is full of cattle ranches and dairy farms, and when the wind shifts, that fact is inescapable. It’s a common complaint.
But Clovis is a good place to raise a family. Businesses and neighbors support youth sports teams, scout troops and kids’ field trips. The schools are good and people care about the families at Cannon.
A woman at a recent newcomers’ orientation for spouses and families says she and her family have lived in Clovis for four years.
“Clovis is awesome. There’s a lot of things to do,” she says. She asked that I not use her name because her husband is in Special Operations and security is always a concern.
Clovis has a strong sense of community. People know each other. They’re friendly.
“When you come into a small town the neighbors are there on the doorstep to welcome you,” says Rick Masters, director of staff at Cannon.
The city is internationally known in music circles as the place where Buddy Holly and the Crickets recorded, at Norman Petty’s downtown studio. Today the Norman and Vi Petty Rock & Roll Museum is in the basement of the town’s economic development and chamber of commerce building. The Buddy Holly connection and “the Clovis Sound” sparked the annual Clovis Music Festival.
Considering the base’s importance to the local economy and identity, it’s no surprise that the military is a big deal here. Before Cannon landed on the BRAC list, community leaders thought they were doing all they could to protect the base. Elected officials and members of a civilian support group called the Committee of 50 visited New Mexico’s congressional delegation for years, making sure development didn’t encroach on the base or range. The Chamber of Commerce organized Cannon Appreciation Day cookouts and businesses gave military discounts.
The BRAC call came on the very morning of one of those cookouts, says chamber CEO Ernie Kos. Everyone at the chamber was stunned, but what choice was there but to go on?
“We put on a happy face and cooked 4,000 hamburgers,” she says.
“IT’S A JEWEL”
During the BRAC process, Clovis and Portales argued that the military’s procedure for analyzing bases “failed to properly evaluate Cannon’s military value for the next 20 years for current and future missions, condition of infrastructure, contingency, mobilization, future forces and the cost of operations,” the final BRAC report says.
In other words, the area trumpeted its assets — not only why the community needed the base, but why the Air Force needed to stay.
Cannon is about 10 miles from Clovis, and 17 miles from Portales out the back gate. It’s close, but not too close. There is no encroachment of development.
Most of the neighbors are bovine, and noise complaints, when they do come, are usually from ranchers asking that planes avoid flying overhead when cows are calving.
Cannon also has Melrose Training Range 25 miles to the west. It’s the only range that Special Operations and the Air Force solely control. No other entity or agency shares that airspace, so Cannon can fly there any time, unfettered by others’ schedules — a precious commodity in the Air Force.
“It’s a jewel,” says Steven Hill, deputy commander of the 27th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron.
The terrain of eastern New Mexico is similar to the locations around the world where the U.S. is engaged in operations, says Benjamin Maitre, commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing. The weather is good for flying; the skies usually clear. And if it’s not optimum, wait five minutes and that will change.
Special Ops often trains at night, doing low-level flying to get personnel in and out of locations quickly and without detection. They prepare for multiple missions. Special operations from the Army, Navy and Marines train there, too.
“Why would they just kick all that aside and start over?” asks city manager Joe Thomas.
OPERATION KEEP CANNON
Operation Keep Cannon used the good relationships the town had built over the years on Capitol Hill to get the BRAC Commission to hold a hearing in Clovis.
The people who are going to decide our fate will be here, the committee told townspeople. They need to see us. Come out and support our Cannon. Wear your T-shirt, hold up your sign.
So on June 24, 2005, the roads were lined with people. Scouting organizations and motorcycle groups were part of the motorcade from the hotel to the junior high school auditorium.
“It was solid people,” Thomas says. A bus of supporters drove in from Amarillo.
The hearing was broadcast live on the local PBS station. People watched from an overflow room in a nearby church.
Nine speakers addressed the panel. Some talked about the economic impact closing Cannon would have on Clovis and Portales. Two members of the Keep Cannon group who were part of the Committee of 50 — a civil engineer and a banker — detailed Cannon’s geographic and military assets, explaining how they fit into the bigger picture.
“The political part, that muscle, got us looked at a second time,” Clovis Mayor Lansford says. “But in the end, it was the assets.”
Community support is important in a military decision, but it’s not the most important factor.
“The BRAC Commission realized the assets at Cannon would be hard to replace,” he says. “That doesn’t have anything to do with the friendliness of the community.”
In August 2005, the BRAC commission put Cannon in “enclave status” to see if the Air Force had a mission that might be a good fit.
As it turns out, Hurlburt Field — where Special Operations is based in Florida — was running out of ramp and hangar space. Training time was limited because the airspace was crowded and scheduling was difficult.
The Air Commandos needed to expand, and the Air Force Special Operations Command, or AFSOC, wanted to consider a base in the West. The choices: Expand Hurlburt, or move to Davis-Monthan or Cannon.
In the AFSOC evaluation, Cannon scored highest on 9 of 11 categories and tied in two, a 2008 GAO report says. Davis-Monthan rated “least desirable” of the three in encroachment and community support. Cannon rated “most desirable” on those two categories.
On June 20, 2006, the Pentagon announced that Cannon would be transferred to Air Force Special Operations Command.
The front page of the Clovis News Journal with the headline “Cannon lands Special Ops unit” is framed and hangs on the walls of the Burger King. The Operation Keep Cannon logo was changed to Operation KEPT Cannon and went up all over Clovis and Portales.
Today, Cannon is growing fast. Deputy Commander Hill, who used to live in Tucson, is on the transition team overseeing the realignment to a Special Ops base. Going up are new and updated base housing units for the influx of personnel, training buildings, and facilities for aircraft such as the Osprey helicopter and AC-130 gunships.
When the transition is complete in 2018, government spending will have hit an estimated $1.29 billion.
That infusion of public cash unleashed a private-spending windfall. Builders are putting up housing as fast as possible. Contractors are busy.
Clovis plumber Mark Carpenter has crews working on base and 35 full-time employees who also handle residential calls. One of his service vans is painted camouflage, and $10 from every call that van makes is donated to a military support group at Cannon. He raised about $6,000 last year. Customers often request the camo van when they schedule an appointment.
Life in Clovis and Portales is good again. The Committee of 50 still visits Washington to advocate for Cannon. The state has given land to expand the Melrose bombing range and Clovis has secured water rights as a backup in case Cannon needs them in the future.
They have joint agreements for emergency services, snow and tumbleweed removal. The communities host military appreciation days, and Cannon is planning its second open house this summer. The efforts continue and the relationships remain strong.
Keeping Cannon was a gargantuan challenge, one that would have failed had leaders in Clovis and Portales not made it their only priority, says Ronnie Birdsong at Eastern New Mexico University. And they’re prepared if their base is threatened again.
“It came out of the ashes,” Birdsong says. “We should learn the lesson, that if you have success with something important, you’re working together.”
Weather, location make D-M an Air Force gem
By David Wichner, Arizona Daily Star
Southern Arizona’s sunny weather and proximity to some of the nation’s best training ranges should help Davis-Monthan Air Force Base survive budget cuts and potential base closings.
“We have the best weather, airspace and ranges of any base in the country,” says Brian Harpel, president of the DM50, a business support group.
Should the Air Force conduct another Base Realignment and Closure process, also known as BRAC, “D-M could gain some additional flying missions if we position ourselves correctly,” Harpel predicts.
Congress has so far rejected the Pentagon’s request for a new BRAC round, which could happen in 2017. With the Air Force saying it has 30 percent more base capacity than it needs, D-M could be in line for change despite its status as one of the service’s largest bases.
“Whatever happens, I would think D-M would be at the top of the list of bases to retain,” says retired Air Force Major Gen. Donald Shepperd, a former commander of the Air National Guard base at Tucson International Airport, who has consulted on basing issues. “It’s got amazing facilities, and is surrounded by all the things you need to support a base.”
D-M’s base commander, Col. James Meger, would not talk about budget issues, the proposed retirement of the A-10 or future Air Force basing plans, deferring to the Pentagon.
But Meger, who trained at D-M as a young pilot, doesn’t hesitate to extol its virtues as one of the nation’s top year-round training bases.
“It’s all about location, location, location. If you look out now, it’s a perfect day in Tucson — perfect flying weather,” Meger said on a sunny April morning. “You also look at, based on location, not just the weather but the availability for airspace and range space as well.”
Davis-Monthan has close access to the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, the nation’s third-largest tactical aviation range and by far the largest of a dozen primary Air Force training ranges, stretching some 1.7 million acres from Tucson to Yuma and down along the Mexican border — out of the way of normal commercial airline routes.
The Goldwater complex includes the massive Sells range and airspace that stretches across much of Southern Arizona, as well as the Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field and several smaller military operations areas.
The eastern part of the Goldwater range is managed by a unit at Luke Air Force Base, while the western portion is managed by Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.
The Goldwater’s eastern area is a focus of air-to-ground attack training, featuring four manned ranges, three simulated air-to-ground target areas and explosive ordnance disposal facilities. Spotters in observation towers score training attacks for accuracy.
While the Air Force and Marine Corps are the main users, the Goldwater Range also hosts units from the Air Guard, the Air Force Reserve, the Navy and air crews of allied nations. The range is frequently used for multi-unit and multi-service exercises.
Meger says the Goldwater Range is one of four in the region — along with Nellis Air Force Range-Nevada Test Range, the Air Force Utah Test and Training Range and the Army’s White Sands Missile Range — that make D-M an ideal location for training, particularly for ground-attack missions.
“We can really operate aircraft like we do in a combat environment,” he says.
Goldwater has some advantages over the larger Nellis and Utah ranges, including less competition for range time and Goldwater’s massive Sells airspace.
“There isn’t a conflict with where the civilian airline traffic would really like to fly, so our range and range airspace doesn’t get in the way,” Meger says.
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Ron Shoopman, former commander of the Air National Guard 162nd Fighter Wing, says the Sells airspace offers pilots and commanders the chance to hold large, integrated exercises like nowhere else.
“You can run a simulated war out there, with airplanes over 100 miles apart to start the simulated engagement and supersonic airspace all the way, so you can actually fight as we would really fight,” says Shoopman, president of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council and a member of the DM50.
And while several air bases are within an hour or so of the Goldwater ranges by jet, being able to fly from D-M in minutes means more time in actual training.
“If I can maximize my time on the range by operating out of a base that’s close to the range, that just makes economic sense,” says retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Eugene Santarelli, a former D-M commander and a local military consultant. “I think that’s the way the Air Force looks at it, too.”
As a major training base for decades, D-M has the right stuff to churn out qualified air crews.
It boasts one of the longer runways in the Air Force, at 13,642 feet — plenty long to land large planes like the C-5 Galaxy transport, which is used to transport large equipment such as combat-rescue helicopters.
It has a live-ordnance loading area and munitions storage facilities — key not only to units based at D-M, but to visiting training units including the Air National Guard’s 162nd Fighter Wing, which can’t load live munitions at its base at Tucson International Airport.
D-M also boasts one of the Defense Department’s largest renewable-energy installations, a 14.5-megawatt solar photovoltaic project expected to provide about 35 percent of the base’s electricity and save an estimated $500,000 annually.
Recent additions include a $55 million command center for the 612th Air Operations Center, which opened in 2007; and a $78 million simulator and classroom complex for training on EC-130H Compass Call electronic-combat planes, completed in 2014.
D-M also has been recognized as a top-performing base, winning the 2012 Commander-in-Chief’s Annual Award for Installation Excellence and a $1 million prize that was used partly to improve D-M’s South Wilmot Road gate.
WHERE AIRCRAFT RETIRE
If a mission or unit can count as an asset, the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group should qualify.
“The Boneyard” operates the Air Force’s main storage, maintenance and parts facility on 2,600 acres, managing an inventory of more than 4,200 aircraft and 40 aerospace vehicles originally worth more than $35 billion.
Experts say the AMARG will stay put for the foreseeable future, and it may grow as the Air Force retires more older aircraft. The Air Force would not likely move the Boneyard, which employs about 600 people. Even if the rest of D-M were shut, experts say the Air Force would have to keep the runway open to keep the Boneyard in operation. That would hinder efforts to redevelop the base for civilian uses.
While Tucson counts D-M as an important asset, Tucson is an asset for D-M and its airmen.
As a metropolitan area of nearly 1 million people, Tucson offers an array of off-base housing, employment opportunities for military spouses and plenty to do.
Airmen like it here.
“There’s tremendous opportunity for them here, where they’d like to live, where they’d like their kids to go to school,” Meger says. “They can go down and catch a Division I (UA) football or basketball game, they can go to some incredible art and cultural opportunities.”
Davis-Monthan ranked 25th in the Air Force Times’ 2014 list of the Best Bases for Airmen, which compared 68 bases. Recreation and low-cost housing were key considerations.