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AFSOC Airmen, spouses visit Cannon Air Force Base

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Amy Cooper
  • 16th SOW Public Affairs
"It's not Hurlburt, but you can't make comparisons between the two," said Chief Master Sgt. Dexter Mitchell, 16th Maintenance Group chief of production and wing weapons manager.

Chief Mitchell and his wife, Kathryn, were part of a group of 46 Air Force Special Operations Command Airmen and spouses sent on a "fact-finding" mission July 20-21 by AFSOC leaders to sort fact from fiction regarding the command's newest addition - Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.

Department of Defense officials announced June 20 that AFSOC would assume ownership of Cannon and nearby Melrose Missile Range from Air Combat Command next year. Although the decision as to which units and aircraft will be making the move has not be reached yet, a new AFSOC base brings the possibility for Airmen from Hurlburt Field and other AFSOC units to be stationed at the New Mexico base.

For two days, the team exchanged Florida's sandy beaches and congested Hwy. 98 for New Mexico's rolling plains and open country roads.

The group toured schools, housing and medical facilities, met with local residents in the neighboring communities of Clovis and Portales and asked tough questions to families currently stationed at Cannon.

"We're not going to try to hide anything from you," said Randy Harris, a member of the Committee of Fifty, Clovis' Military Affairs Council, to the guests gathered for dinner July 21 at the Clovis Civic Center. "We're going to show you the good and the bad."

Opinions varied, but most Hurlburt people found Cannon a favorable option.
"I would love to be stationed here," said Brandy Hewins, wife of Capt. Chad Hewins, a pilot with the 15th Special Operations Squadron.

At Cannon, she would only be five hours from her parents, the closest since she's been with the Air Force.

"The area was better than I expected," said Mrs. Hewins. "I didn't come with high expectations, so it's hard to be disappointed."

Besides the location and accompanying dry air, she was impressed with the quality and amount of housing, as well as the local community.

"The community here is very close-knit," she said. "I don't know anyone in Florida."
Nestled about 10 miles from the Texas border, the friendly communities were noted by many on the trip.

"The community is trying to make people comfortable here," said Chief Mitchell. "They are committed to the base. The support from the community is great."

The school systems were another item of interest to the group.

"The schools were better than I thought," said Mrs. Hewins. "They seem to have very enthusiastic teachers. People stationed here seem to be happy about the schools."

One of the schools the group visited was Mesa Elementary School in Clovis. Though it was about 10 years old, it looked as though it had been built the day before. Computers were in every classroom and students' artwork adorned the walls of the atrium-like hallways.

"They are so committed to their school system," said Chief Mitchell. "For people who want education for their kids, there's a system here for that."

With the closest "big" city about an hour and a half away - Lubbock, Texas - the big question on people's minds was "What's there to do at Cannon?"

For some, there was plenty.

"There were far more things to do than I expected - on the base and in the community," said Mrs. Hewins.

However, for young, single Airmen, entertainment may be harder to find.

"From what I'm told, there's not much to do. If you want to go shopping or to the movies, this isn't the place," said Airman Kirk Robert, 16th Medical Support Squadron and the youngest member on the trip.

For the beach-loving twenty-something Airman, Cannon would be an adjustment.

"They tell me there's plenty of beach, but no ocean," he said, referring to the white sands of the missile range.

The clouds in the Southwestern sky were few and far between, but Airman Robert was able to find a silver lining.

"It's a good place to get an education," he said. "The golf course is nice, too."
Chief Mitchell said that extra effort would have to be made to take care of the younger troops.

"(Information, Tickets and Travel) would have to be beefed up," he said. "If they get the kids out, then it won't be a problem."

For the younger crowd, leisure activities would have to be found in the bigger cities just a drive away. Lt. Col. Tony Bauernfeind, 15th SOS commander, pointed out a similarity in the areas' commutes.

"Driving to Lubbock will be like driving from Navarre to Sandestin because of traffic," he said.

The group came back with a better picture of Cannon and its surrounding communities, ready to share all they learned with fellow Airmen and families.

"Most the time you hear bad things from people who haven't even been here," said Chief Mitchell. "No matter what you've heard, the place isn't as bad as people make it out to be."