Air Force announces Air Force Special Operations as new Cannon AFB mission

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Air Force officials announced today that Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., will be the new home for an Air Force special operations wing.

Air Force Special Operations Command will accept ownership of Cannon AFB and the Melrose Range effective Oct. 1, 2007.

The decision came as a result of an eight-step process the Air Force began in the fall 2005 to explore a reuse for Cannon. The New Mexico Congressional delegation and community leaders actively supported this effort.

"Finding a reuse for Cannon Air Force Base was a top priority for the Air Force," said William C. "Bill" Anderson, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics. "We were not just looking for a fit between Cannon's assets and a new user, we were looking for the best fit, and AFSOC is the best fit for Cannon."

Because of historical lineage, the 16th Special Operations Wing flag will transition to Cannon, and Hurlburt Field will regain its designation as the 1st Special Operations Wing.

Simultaneously, Air Combat Command's 27th Fighter Wing will begin drawing down as outlined in the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure recommendation. The wing will deactivate after the F-16 Fighting Falcons have been reassigned. That process is expected to take six to 12 months.

Military members directly support the F-16 mission at Cannon will transfer to new assignments as the aircraft they are responsible for transfer to their new bases. Mission support personnel will remain and support the incoming AFSOC unit.

Initially, the 16th Special Operations Wing will partition its assets to support the mission at Cannon. During the next few years, AFSOC will experience some growth as the result of the increased special operations mission as outlined in the Quadrennial Defense Review released earlier this year.

The growth in weapons systems and people will be divided between the two bases. New airframes, to include the CV-22 Osprey, will be assigned to Hurlburt/Eglin as well as to the new wing at Cannon. Other potential aircraft for Cannon are AC-130U Gunships and the MC-130H Combat Talon II. The final aircraft mix between Cannon and Hurlburt Field has not been finalized.

"The AFSOC expansion to Cannon offers special operators a western U.S. base to enhance support for its operations in the Pacific theatre and to meet the objectives of our global defense posture," said Lt. Gen. Michael W. Wooley, AFSOC commander. "Additionally, the Melrose Range and the surrounding region open up new and unrestricted training opportunities AFSOC does not currently experience, to include joint and composite training with other services and nations, as well as mission training opportunities. Cannon basing of AFSOC assets enables the special operations community easy access to a high desert training environment much like that encountered in contingency operations."

Hurlburt Field will continue as the headquarters of Air Force Special Operations Command and will also be the home of the 1st Special Operations Wing.

"AFSOC is pleased to continue our strong relationship with the northwest Florida community," said General Wooley. "This is truly a win-win situation for Florida, New Mexico, and AFSOC."

In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, the Air Force will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the mission change at Cannon AFB and of any changes in the use of Melrose Range. The studies are anticipated to take 15 to 18 months.

"The Air Force mission is to protect the United States and its interests around the world," said Michael Wynne, Secretary of the Air Force. "Force readiness is a top priority for the Air Force and was the major factor in my recommendation for this new use for Cannon."

The Air Force had until 2009 to identify a new use for Cannon's assets or the base would be closed in 2010, in accordance with the 2005 BRAC commission's recommendations. However, the Air Force set a goal to complete Cannon's search for a new use by summer 2006.