The Challenge and Potential of Base Closure as Viewed from Roswell, New Mexico

The Loss of a military base can be a traumatic experience for any community. Roswell experienced this phenomenon a little over 50 years ago when Walker AFB was shuttered.

In the new Rio Grande Foundation policy paper, Roswell and Walker AFB Closure: History, Analysis, and Lessons Learned,” authors Paul Gessing along with Raul Ayala and Colin McGlinchey study the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process and how Walker AFB was closed (preceding the creation of the BRAC process by nearly two decades). 

In addition to BRAC, the analysts look at how Walker AFB transitioned to the Roswell Air Center (RAC) and how that process has gone. They also compare that transition and its impact to BRAC processes in other rural areas. Finally, the report offers a few thoughts on the current situation at RAC as well as considerations for state and local policymakers and considers the impact that the dramatic slowdown in air travel due to COVID 19 is having on RAC and its prospects for success.

The study offers a robust overview of the history of base closures dating back to the closing of Walker AFB and how the Vietnam era spate of base closings ultimately led to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process that is in place today.

The authors acknowledge the pain and challenges that the loss of Walker AFB caused the Roswell community. Nonetheless they argue that the BRAC process is arguably the greatest federal spending reduction effort of all time. And, if the BRAC process had been around when Walker closed (and the relevant federal programs made available), it might have benefitted the Roswell community.

The completely unexpected COVID 19 crisis which has had a devastating toll on the global airline industry has actually boosted the viability of the Roswell Air Center and its repair/maintenance operations.

Ultimately, the authors conclude, rural areas like Roswell inherently face more challenges than urban ones in recovering from a base closure. Big urban areas have numerous advantages including a “critical mass” of businesses and population, a demand for “prime real estate,” and proximity to supply chains. That being said, changing the relatively business-unfriendly policies of the State of New Mexico would help communities like Roswell attract businesses that would put facilities like Walker AFB (now the Roswell Air Center) to more economical use in the long-term.

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