Las Cruces Sun News
Author: Gov. Gary Johnson
The United States Air Force means a lot of things to New Mexico, and one of the most important of those things is jobs. Thousands of jobs. Good jobs that are the lifeblood of more than a few New Mexico communities.
And New Mexico is good for the Air Force — and the nation’s military readiness. Our climate, our geography, our workforce, our quality of life are all major reasons our state is home to some of the most important bases and training programs in the country.
New Mexico and the USAF need each other, and understand each other. It’s no coincidence that the secretary of the U.S. Air Force is a New Mexican.
For decades, the Air Force has conducted training within our borders as a good and valued citizen. That includes many, many years of exercises of all kinds in our airspace. During my eight years as governor, I found the relationship to be one with tremendous mutual benefits.
We understood each other. The Air Force had requirements we could fill — better than any other state, and New Mexico benefits tremendously from the thousands of jobs that come with those aircraft flying across our skies.
Today, the Air Force has a need ... and to no one’s surprise, New Mexico once again is better suited than any other state to fill it. That’s not just my opinion; it’s the USAF’s conclusion after a great deal of study.
The Air Force needs to train as many as 1,000 new jet pilots over the next several years, and they want to train them at Holloman Air Force Base — because it’s the best place to do so. To do that, they need to expand the Special Use Airspace Holloman currently uses for training and exercises. That expansion would potentially extend flights over more of the Gila National Forest, land the federal government already owns and manages. And yes, it may also mean flights nearer to some of our communities. However, the need is real. The boundaries of the Special Use Airspace currently in place are decades old, while the planes and technology have changed dramatically.
Understandably, some are concerned about F-16’s flying over more territory. Sportsmen, hikers and other outdoor recreationists have questions about potential impacts on their enjoyment of the Gila. That’s normal. I’m a pretty avid outdoor guy myself.
Likewise, there are some communities near the proposed special airspace extension who also have questions and concerns. Those questions should be answered.
But here’s the deal: Some politicians are just saying “no”. They’re conjuring images of fighter jets skimming the heads of hikers, dropping chaff and cracking foundations with sonic booms. The Gila will never be the same if the Air Force has its way, they’re telling us.
They’re saying all that, even though the Air Force itself hasn’t even yet published a Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed extension. And when the feds do finish their Environmental Impact Statement, the potential impacts will be laid out in excruciating detail — and we will all have an opportunity to weigh in with legitimate concerns and suggested changes to the plan. Life as we know it, including in the Gila, will not be destroyed.
That’s how the process works. Our elected officials have an obligation to be sure the process is open, fair and reasonable. Yes, the concerns of those who don’t want the expanded Special Use Airspace should absolutely be heard. But prejudging the process to just say no isn’t the way to do it. That isn’t how New Mexico has, for decades, built a relationship with the Air Force that has served all of us extremely well.
It is a partnership that brings billions of dollars into our state, creates thousands of jobs and, in net, makes for a better quality of life for all New Mexicans. If preserving that partnership — and creating even more jobs in the process — means thoughtfully finding a way to meet the training needs of America’s fighter pilots, then that’s exactly what we need to do.
Just slamming the door isn’t how we do it in New Mexico.
Gary Johnson is a former governor of New Mexico and current Libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate