Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Linda Haddock 

Millions of Dollars Could Fly Away


Last updated 3/25/2019 at 1:20pm

Millions of dollars a year has boosted the bottom line of many Borrego businesses these last several years due to military desert training operations that were billeted in Borrego Springs. Revenues the businesses’ owners and employees’ jobs came to depend upon.

These millions are a stream of income likely to dry up if the community doesn’t muster a successful effort to keep the military training here. On the low side it is three million dollars into the local economy a year and on the high side 20 million dollars that will be lost if the military goes away.

For nearly a decade the U.S. military and its allied forces – of primarily British and Canadian troops, but from France, Italy, Australia and other nations’ too – have been sending small units of professional soldiers, airmen, marines and their support team members, 40 – 200 troops at a time, to train in the desert and dark night skies over Borrego Valley and Ocotillo Wells. These elite troops keep a low profile, leave a small footprint, doing much of their work at night. When Borrego sleeps, they are jumping out of various aircraft at a multitude of heights into a variety of mock battle situations. From time to time a caravan of tanks and other military transport can be seen heading east to Ocotillo Wells.

Lead by the Borrego Sun Newspaper, this article and effort are being coordinated to inform the community of how severe the loss of this military business would be, and to ask the community to help in this effort to keep the military here for the good of the local businesses and the jobs they create. It is a fluid situation, and an update will be provided in the next issue of the Sun.

Andy Whitcomb, military training contact for Perris Valley Aviation Services Inc., dba Perris Valley Government Services (PVAS), told Honorary Mayor Andy Macuga, owner of Carlee’s Place, that PVAS hopes to keep working with Borrego Valley Airport for its military operations. The airport did not comment to the Sun’s inquiry.

Whitcomb shared with Patrick Sampson, general manager of La Casa Del Zorro Resort and president of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce & Visitors’ Bureau, that PVAS hopes to work all details out with the airport soon.

The loss of this military business would have a negative economic impact on the community. “Carlee’s Place alone sees thousands of dollars in increased revenue during the military’s time here. Their visits coincide with periods that would usually be a slight downtime financially. Not only does each member of the unit have a per diem that they spend throughout our community, but they impact our lodging establishments, gas stations, grocery stores, and convenience stores as well,” Macuga said.

“The military business La Casa has enjoyed over the past serval years is valued at approximately $750,000 each year. We are aware that both Borrego Springs Resort [Golf Club & Spa] and Palm Canyon Hotel [& RV Resort] enjoy similar results. The military business visits year-round, resulting in increased revenues during the traditionally slow summer months,” said Sampson.

Erica Atmaca, general manager of Borrego Springs Resort, said, “The military business is huge to us, especially in the shoulder season months of April and May.”

Christopher Gagnon, general manager of Highway West Vacations’ Palm Canyon Hotel & RV Resort and Borrego Valley Inn (HWV) said, “HWV most surely welcomes the four to five military operations brought to HWV each year through the bid process with the Canadian, English and French departments of Defense (DOD) that provides HWV with 60 to 90 troops for an average stay of 10 days.”

Kirit Patel, the owner of Stanlund’s Inn and Suites, said, “Stanlund’s and the other smaller lodging properties in Borrego also benefit from these military operations with the overflow and friends and family business they receive.”

How would the local businesses make up such a loss of income, especially summer revenue? How many jobs could be cut?

Culturally, the loss of military operations in Borrego Springs would be unacceptable, as well with the long history of military activities being an integral part of Borrego dating back to World War II. “In 1942 General George Patton was billeted at La Casa as his troops trained for the North African Campaign. Today they train for Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” Sampson said.

How times have changed since World War II and the half million to a million U. S. Army, Navy and Marines the war brought to training camps in the Lower Colorado Desert.

“From 10 to 30 troops come out to the American Legion Post 853 when off duty for each of these military operations that last 10 to 20 days and take place three to four times a year. They come out for our cantina and meals, for the camaraderie,” said, Rick Dobbins, commander of the Post.

“There is not a single negative with these troops and operations. We have mutual respect.”

The C-130’s and hours of operation are rumored to be what may be causing a purported divide between some in the community and these military operations, with the airport maybe finding itself in the middle.

The neighborhoods of RoadRunner Club and Tubb Canyon thought to be the likeliest sources for complaints, if there were any, haven’t been found to be complaining much.

Dan Wright of The Springs at Borrego RV Resort & Golf Course and RoadRunner Club said, “Have not heard even one complaint. They seem very polite and well behaved.”

Cheryl Chris of Tubb Canyon had the one neighbor complain to her, and she could think of one other that might. She said about her feelings, “I am all fine with them being here. I don’t get anyone having a problem with them.”

Brad Tidwell of RoadRunner Club, vice president of the chamber of commerce, president of the Kiwanis Club of Borrego Springs, and chair of the Borrego Spring Fire Protection District said, “I live on the east side of RoadRunner closest to the airport. The infrequent times I hear them coming over it makes me proud to hear the sound of freedom.”

Much like Tidwell’s statement, days apart, Dobbins said, “When they complain just remind them,’ ‘That’s the sound of freedom you’re hearing.’”

County of San Diego District 5 Supervisor Jim Desmond, a U.S. Navy Veteran and 30-year pilot for Delta Airlines said, “Maybe for sensitive areas and people a compromise of hours, of heights over neighborhoods or locations where they train could be worked out if need be. We do not want them to leave. Their business is too important economically to the County as well as to Borrego.”

Sampson with eloquence gave us some words to take to heart, “The hundreds of allied forces which pass through Borrego Springs immediately become our dedicated ambassadors when they return home. We have had several of them return to us in the company of their friends and family. Not only the hotels and resorts benefit from this new and critical market. Every independent restaurant and bar, every retail outlet benefits from this military business.”

Sampson concluded with, “Each time a team leaves Borrego Springs, their Transport Wing does a low and circular flyover La Casa as their gesture of farewell and a ‘bientot’ a ‘see you again’ to all of Borrego Springs. Our pride is the crescendo heard by all of us. They can be proud of their brave service to their countries.”

Supervisor Desmond concluded his comments on this matter with, “It’s the sound of freedom and the sound of jobs.”

Email your thoughts and letters on this matter to the editor of the Borrego Sun, or mail to the attention to the editor at the Borrego Sun, PO Box 249, Borrego Springs, CA 92004. And, if you have stories about the military in Borrego Springs, share them.

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