With the death of Arizona Sen. John McCain, our nation’s uniformed personnel lost their staunchest advocate in Congress. Sen. McCain was the champion of the front-line war fighter in each and every Department of Defense (DOD) budget. McCain crusaded for budget monies for equipment, materiel and training.
In New Mexico we have three Air Force Bases and the Army Test Range at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). The mission set at each of these four military installations is being severely jeopardized while most of us idly stand by as the military’s ability to train, test and evaluate is potentially eroding.
Cannon Air Force Base
In northern New Mexico air crews from Cannon AFB are being challenged by protests over the low-level flight routes they need to hone their skills for combat in an environment mirroring real-world combat environments. These training flights are not some fun and games activity; they are essential missions that could determine life and death outcomes in a war zone. Conspicuously absent in the northern community discussions are the advocates to articulate how essentially critical these training routes are for air crews who will soon be flying in combat in protection of our nation.
Holloman Air Force Base
At Holloman AFB in southern New Mexico, the current Regional Special Use Airspace Optimization Plan (RSOP) is being crippled by those who advocate for fishing, hiking and camping access. The mission of the F-16s at Holloman is to provide initial flight qualification training – the Air Force is experiencing a critical shortage of fighter pilots. The expanded Military Operating Areas and coordinated use of WSMR airspace will allow the Air Force to minimize any potential disruption or impact to training across our state. The process surrounding the RSOP protects citizens’ access to recreational activities and creates the opportunity for F-16 pilots to receive critical life-preserving training.
White Sands Missile Range
White Sands Missile Range is the foremost military test range in the United States. WSMR is the second-largest testing facility in the world and the largest in the United States. The SunZia Southwest Transmission Project is a known impediment to the comprehensive test environment essential to develop weapons and countermeasures to protect our national security. In 2014 Gov. Susana Martinez expressed concerns about the project to then-Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The WSMR 2016-2046 30-year strategic plan anticipates increased testing of emerging technologies. In 2017 Martinez wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Defense Secretary James Mattis urging that transmission routing be conformed to the original Department of Defense-preferred route. In January of 2018 Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry, R-Texas and chairman of the committee on Armed Services, also wrote to Mattis and Zinke stating the “proposal agreed to in May 2014 by the DOD and the DOI will unacceptably limit WSMR testing.” The May 2014 proposal was forced through by the Obama White House. These three letters, plus the strategic plan based on current and near-term threat analysis and longer-term mission requirements have thus far gone unheeded. And the SunZia project remains a huge danger to the viability of White Sands.
In central New Mexico critical missions have been and continue to be compromised. The approval of a bird sanctuary located a mere 3.5 miles south of the Albuquerque International Sunport active runway has severely limited the ability of the 58th Special Operations Wing to meet mission requirements.
Kirtland Air Force Base
Giant wind turbines are being erected north and east of Kirtland AFB with zero assessment of their impact on military operating areas or military flight training paths. Most recently, a sovereign nation pueblo is lobbying for a land swap with the Bureau of Land Management. The unique geography of the terrain allows for extremely critical training. Such a swap will create a high risk for future training.
All of us expect our war fighters to win any fight, anytime, anywhere. This is an appeal to all New Mexicans to become advocates for the war fighter. This is an appeal for community leaders and local elected officials to inform themselves on the serious nature of these unsettled conflicts. Everyone needs to understand there is no guarantee that these missions will remain in New Mexico if the critical needs of the war fighter are dismissed, ignored and rejected. We all enjoy the first-world privileges and lifestyle engendered by the security the war fighter provides us on a daily basis. To paraphrase Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, a reason national security is not a nagging concern on the mind of the average citizen is thanks to the fact that our military services protect us so well.