WASHINGTON – New Mexico’s military bases and missions are unlikely to suffer as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel tries to reduce the nation’s force size to pre-World War II levels, Sen. Tom Udall said Tuesday.
Udall, a New Mexico Democrat who sits on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, said his office is working to fend off any potential military losses in the state.
Citing Hagel’s emphasis on reducing ground troops, Udall sounded optimistic about New Mexico’s military footing.
“New Mexico’s bases are among the jewels of the Air Force, and this budget outline largely recognizes this fact,” Udall said, referring to information he has received from the White House in advance of President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget rollout next week.
“We have the best flying space in the entire United States,” Udall said. “Countries from all over the world – the Germans, the Philippines – come to train at our bases, so these are real treasures, and I think the Air Force and the Department of Defense and Secretary Hagel know that.”
But Udall said his office will pay close attention to emerging details of Hagel’s force-reduction plan, which he announced in a speech Monday.
“You better believe we’re taking a close look at anything they are doing that would impact our good bases and the national laboratories that we have,” Udall said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
Rep. Steve Pearce, a New Mexican Republican who represents Holloman Air Force Base, White Sands and areas near Fort Bliss, sounded concerned about Hagel’s plan and said he also would fight any proposed cuts.
“Secretary Hagel says he wants a strong, technologically superior military to face emerging security threats, but he threatens to cut funding for the very installations that provide that,” Pearce said.
In New Mexico, Kirtland, Holloman and Cannon Air Force bases and White Sands Missile Range have a big impact on the economy.
Based on the most recent economic impact statements from each, the military’s economic impact in New Mexico is $9.9 billion per year. The bases collectively employ more than 18,000 military personnel and nearly 25,000 civilians and contractors. The New Mexico National Guard employs about 3,800 full- and part-time military personnel.
Udall said White Sands Missile Range and Fort Bliss in Texas – both Army installations – are valuable assets.
“I don’t think we’ve seen anything that’s come out so far that leads me to believe I should be concerned (about them),” Udall said. “White Sands Missile Range conducts many of the advanced testing for all branches of the military. A renewed emphasis on research and development should benefit that range, I think.”
Udall said Air Force bases in the state are particularly well-positioned.
Cannon Air Force Base, which narrowly avoided closure in a 2005 Base Realignment and Closure review, is now considered a prime asset of the Air Force, Udall said. He noted that Hurlburt Field Air Force Base in Florida and Cannon are among the only bases that house Air Force special operations forces.
“This is what the future of conflict is about – special operations, the Air Force moving people into special operations situations,” Udall said. “We were very fortunate to have that designation. I fought hard for that and we’re going to fight hard to keep it.”
Holloman Air Force Base is projected to add about 150 positions as it transitions from F-22 to F-16 fighters. Kirtland Air Force Base is critical to the nation’s nuclear force, Udall’s office said.
Gov. Susana Martinez also vowed Tuesday to fight defense cuts in New Mexico.
“Any kind of budget cuts to our defense will impact New Mexico in a big way,” Martinez told reporters in Albuquerque. She called the state’s four military bases and two national laboratories “very important to our national security” and said her administration would fight any decrease in military spending here.
“We’re still at the beginning of the process, so we don’t know where we’re going to end up,” the governor said.
Journal staff writers Charles Brunt and John Fleck contributed to this report.