By Tonya Fennell: Freedom New Mexico
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — Hand over hand, four white gloves methodically traveled over a wooden flag pole, exchanging the old 27th Fighter Wing colors for the new 27th Special Operations Wing flag.
Performed by the 27th Fighter Wing Honor Guard, the flag ceremony signified the official change of command Monday at Cannon Air Force Base from Air Combat Command to Special Operations Command.
“By order of the Secretary of the Air Force, all airmen are relieved from their Air Combat Command duties effective Oct. 1, 2007,” Gen. Norman Seip, 12th Air Force commander said.
The official ceremony marked the end of a 2 1/2 year battle to save Cannon from being shuttered after the Base Realignment and Closure Committee recommended it be closed.
The first airmen and aircraft from the 73rd Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., will begin arriving in November.
The Air Force has said the final active-duty population at Cannon is expected to be between 4,400 and 5,600 people and about 100 aircraft will be built up over the next six years.
Prior to the flag exchange ceremony, Seip addressed the large crowd that was assembled in a Cannon hangar. “We are opening up a new chapter,” Seip said.
Seip lauded the accomplishments of Col. Scott West, who has served as the commander of the 27th Fighter Wing since March 2006. Seip said West had two constant themes during his tenure, one being that Cannon airmen were still valued although the base was being threatened with closure and that airmen should “work hard and play smart.”
West relinquished command of the base to Col. Tim Leahy, who became the first commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing.
Lt. Gen. Michael Wooley, Air Force Special Operations commander, said he was proud to bear witness to the vision that AFSOC has had for many years — acquiring an AFSOC base west of the Mississippi. “This is a magnificent base in a magnificent community,” Wooley said. “We (AFSOC) will uphold the high standard the 27th Fighter Wing has been known for during their rich history.”
Leahy, who was promoted from vice commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla., thanked Wooley for setting an “unwavering example” and West for “shouldering the burden of working under two commands.”
Leahy concluded by saying the mission for Cannon is now clear. “We (AFSOC) are going to transform Cannon into a base that is unsurpassed in training special operations airmen ready to deploy whenever and wherever required,” he said, “and we are going to make New Mexico a better place to work and raise our children.”
Col. Tim Leahy assumed command Monday of the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon Air Force Base. The 44-year-old Staten Island, N.Y., native is married with two children.
He previously served as vice-commander of the 16th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
Q: Were you raised in a military family?
A: No, my father served in the Navy during the Korean War, but it was a short stint.
Q: Why did you choose to join the Air Force?
A: At a very young age, I knew I wanted to fly. I knew I wanted to be a pilot. My uncle was a pilot, so I asked him how to do it. He told me to join the Air Force and I took his advice.
Q: How does it feel to be selected the first commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing?
A: It’s an absolute, unbelievable honor to be given any kind of command.
Q: How soon will airmen and aircraft begin arriving at Cannon?
A: A handful have already arrived and others will begin trickling in now. The 73rd Special Operations Squadron will arrive between November and February. The MC-130Ws will arrive at Cannon as they roll off the production line. While they aren’t a new aircraft, they are being given a new life.
Q: What are your priorities?
A: To take Cannon and transform it from a fighter squadron to a special operations squadron. We plan to train and employ the greatest special operations airmen.
In time, joint special operations training with the Navy Seals and the Army Special Forces will be taking place at Cannon and at the Melrose Bombing Range.
Q: The 27th Fighter Wing has had a close partnership with the community. Will the 27th Special Operations Wing continue that?
A: Yes, that is a core trait of the United States Air Force. We want to continue that relationship. This is one of the most enthusiastic communities I have seen, and we look forward to working with them.
Q: What was your first impression of Clovis?
A: I can sum it up in one word: Friendly. Clovis has the most courteous and most welcoming people.
Q: Who will you look to for guidance as you take on your new role as commander?
A: AFSOC staff and the United States Special Operations staff.
Q: There is still one active fighter squadron, the 522nd Fighter Squadron, at Cannon. What are your plans for these airmen?
A: They will continue to fly and stay ready to fight until the last F-16 has left the base.
— Compiled by Tonya Fennell, Freedom New Mexico