Holloman F-16 training flyovers will not take place over Sierra County or the Gila

by Diana Tittle | February 1, 2021
3 min read
A broad coalition of concerned citizens successfully opposed the expansion of F-16 training airspace over I-25 corridor communities in southern New Mexico and 3.3 million acres of beloved public lands. Source: Peaceful Gila Skies

Over the weekend, Headquarters, U.S. Air Force released its Final Environmental Impact Statement assessing three alternative routes for expanding F-16 pilot training airspace for Holloman Air Force Base in Albuquerque.  

One of the expanded Military Operations Areas under consideration would have directed 10,000-plus supersonic flights annually over Truth or Consequences and other 1-25 corridor communities. Another proposed alternative would have seen training flights, which involve the discharge of flairs and chaff, conducted over the heart of the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wilderness Areas to our southwest. 

The Final EIS was published on a special-purpose website without fanfare. It disclosed that the Air Force had chosen as its “preferred alternative” the expansion of the “Talon” MOA that Holloman currently uses over southeastern New Mexico, east of Alamogordo. No rationale for the choice, apart from previously published criteria, was provided.

Overview of the existing Talon MOA and overlying Air Traffic Controlled Assigned Airspace and the area into which the Talon airspace will be expanded. Source: Final EIS

Clearly, public pressure played a role. The Talon alternative was favored by a broad coalition of conservation groups, concerned citizens, community and government leaders, sportsmen and aviators as the least likely to do harm. During the public comment period for the Draft EIS, which began on Nov. 1, 2019, and ended on Jan. 31, 2020, southern and southwestern New Mexicans submitted thousands of comments in person at hearings and in writing, documenting and objecting to the impact on the environment, wildlife, outdoor recreation, tourism, real estate values and peace and quiet should the Air Force begin flying 10,000-plus training missions over their heads. 

Many of these overflights would have been conducted at low altitudes and involved the discharging of magnesium flares, a potential fire hazard, and “defensive chaff”—shreds of aluminum, fiberglass and plastic deployed by the military to evade radar detection—a suspected contaminant. 

The day the website went live, Peaceful Gila Skies, a coalition leader, released a press release headlined “Holloman Air Force Base decision a victory for New Mexico wilderness, public lands.” 

“New Mexicans respectfully sent a loud and clear message that the places we visit to find solitude and enjoy nature are not appropriate for military combat training. Today’s announcement by the Air Force reaffirms the notion that constructive public advocacy can lead to positive outcomes,” coalition member, Mark Allison, executive director at New Mexico Wild, said in the release. “We greatly appreciate the important role Holloman Air Force Base plays in our national security, and salute Defense Department officials for honoring their commitment to a fair and open public process, for hearing community concerns, and for ultimately reaching the correct decision.” 

The publication of the Final EIS (which can be read in full here) initiates a 30-day waiting period before the Record of Decision is signed and goes into effect, ending several years of uncertainty about the Air Force’s intentions. 


Diana Tittle is editor of the Sun.

Share this:

Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.


Holloman AFB plan to expand F16-training airspace is a no-go with the public
by Kathleen Sloan | April 26, 2020

Holloman Air Force Base wants to double its air space for training F16 pilots, while admitting what they have is sufficient. The number of sorties…

Sierra County Commission supports limiting Holloman AFB airspace expansion
by Kathleen Sloan | April 25, 2020

The Sierra County Commission amended a resolution, getting rid of statements against Holloman Air Force Base dropping flares and chaff over National Forests and ranches,…

2 thoughts on “Holloman F-16 training flyovers will not take place over Sierra County or the Gila”

  1. This is proof, if proof be needed, that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) can be a good tool to facilitate public comment and lead to good decisions reflecting that comment. The advantage in the case of Holloman’s expansion was that public comment was focused, not split into discordant factions that could be manipulated one against the other. We should not fear the federal NEPA review process. It is a tool. But it does take a lot of coordination, spot-on public comment, and, if the issues are big, legal guidance along the way. More simply said, to be successful takes a lot of hard work from a lot of people of common mind.

  2. It’s soooooo nice when actual people can actually effect a change! Especially when one was one of them.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top