Tornados rise from the Tularosa Basin, charging above the Chihuahuan Desert. Based at Holloman Air Force Base, the German air force has for decades trained pilots in New Mexico’s desert. And the force of a Tornado is something to behold: The fighter planes can travel at Mach 2.2 speed and climb to 30,000 feet in less than two minutes.
In northern New Mexico, military aircraft flying 500 feet above the ground scatter livestock; people are startled by B-1 bombers refueling at higher altitudes. Many also see C-130s practicing approach and departure maneuvers from the Taos Regional Airport; the aircraft don’t touch down, local residents say, but they practice their moves repeatedly.
Even on the fringes of Albuquerque, aircraft flying in and out of Kirtland Air Force Base startle pets and young children—and remind everyone that, despite the moniker of “enchantment,” New Mexico is, first and foremost, a military state.
Now, the Air Force plans to expand the training area for two of its aircraft, the CV-22 Osprey and the C-130, throughout 94,000 square miles of New Mexico and Colorado.
Since the proposal came into the public eye in September, it has provoked vocal opposition—as well as notable support.
The Town of Taos passed a resolution calling for a halt to low-altitude flights over the town. Las Vegas did the same, and Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Taos counties have all voted to oppose the Low-Altitude Tactical Navigation training area, or LATN.
The Santa Fe City Council, on the other hand, last week reversed course after initial opposition to pass a resolution supporting the flyovers, while also expressing support for further study of their environmental impact.
The brouhaha—and the conflicting views on the proposal—highlights the inherently conflicted relationship New Mexico has with the military.
In reality, the Air Force’s proposed training area is just one tiny piece of a much larger issue—and it’s been in the works for years. After all, New Mexico’s economy is tethered to the military. The expansion of the training area has everything to do with longstanding efforts by New Mexico lawmakers—Democrat and Republican alike—to keep southeastern New Mexico’s Cannon Air Force Base from closing. In fact, New Mexico lawmakers fought to keep Cannon open when it was on the chopping block under the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Committee, or BRAC.
Established by Congress in 1990, BRAC’s mandate is to review and analyze the US Department of Defense’s recommendations concerning which military installations should remain open and which should be closed.
“Well, this is the mission they got, that helps support their continued existence,” Santa Fe City Councilor Chris Calvert says. “It’s not a referendum on the war and all that, but we did do that—so they need to do the training to support the mission.”