ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The German Air Force, which started training pilots on the American-made F-4 Phantom II fighter/bomber at Holloman Air Force Base in 1992, will leave the base in 2019, dealing what is likely to be a heavy financial blow to the area’s economy.
Col. Heinz-Josef Ferkinghoff, commander of German forces in the U.S., said the German Air Force is terminating its contract with the U.S. Air Force to operate the Tactical Training Center at Holloman and will move its training to Deutsche Luftwaffe bases at Schleswig and Buechel in Germany.
“There’s a certain logistical challenge to operate a fast jet like the Tornado in a foreign country,” Ferkinghoff told The Associated Press. “Sometimes we wait weeks for spare parts, but in Germany they’re more or less immediately available.”
Newly elected Alamogordo Mayor Richard Boss said he had heard rumors for quite some time that there was a good likelihood the German contingent would be leaving, so Friday’s announcement “really wasn’t a surprise,” but unhappy news nonetheless.
Boss said he was pleased the pullout would be gradual and the lag will help the local economy adjust to what he said will be a sizable negative impact that will affect the housing, retail and services sectors.
He said German families occupy about 400 homes and apartments in Alamogordo.
“They will definitely be missed,” Boss said. “They are truly great neighbors.”
On the up side, Boss said the German Air Force’s departure will free up air space for U.S. military training, and potentially lead to expansion of missions for both Holloman and White Sands Missile Range.
According to Holloman’s 2013 economic impact statement – the most recent available – the German Air Force employed 432 military personnel and 58 civilians, and had a payroll of $28.7 million, or 12.7 percent of base’s total payroll.
Ferkinghoff said the German Air Force’s presence at Holloman peaked in 2005 with 850 personnel and 38 Tornado aircraft.
Today, the German Air Force employs 450 military personnel and 30 civilians, and has 14 Tornadoes at Holloman.
“A lot of factors come together,” Ferkinghoff told the Alamogordo Daily News. “Shortage of personnel, materiel and a different spectrum that we now have in our portfolio with the Tornado also contributes to this decision.
“The finances are also an influence. In my judgment, the main drivers were not the financial side but the operational requirements at the end.”
Three years after it started training pilots and air crews at Holloman, the German Air Force opened its Tactical Training Center and activated the 20th Fighter Squadron, which brought the base 325 German military personnel and 12 Tornado fighters.
The Germans phased out the Vietnam-era F-4s in the early 2000s and replaced then with Panavia Tornadoes, multirole fighters jointly developed and manufactured by Italy, the United Kingdom and Germany.
Holloman was selected as a site for Luftwaffe training because of available air space, favorable southern New Mexico weather and its proximity to Fort Bliss, Texas, which was the former headquarters for German Air Force operations in the United States and Canada.
Attempts to reach Holloman commander Col. Robert Kiebler for comment Friday were unsuccessful.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, a Hobbs Republican whose southern New Mexico district includes Holloman, said in a statement, “Our office is engaged with local leaders and the Air Force to find missions to replace this significant void to ensure the continued success of HAFB and Alamogordo. I am thankful for the time we have shared with the German Air Force, the unique bond our airmen enjoy – especially when deployed overseas, and the dedication of our community.”