New White Sands commander talks of base future

November 28, 2011 • State News

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — The new commander of the Army’s White Sands Missile Range says he is hopeful the base can drive down the cost of testing to maintain its edge with civilian customers.

The base will be more reliant than ever on civilian projects as the Pentagon budget shrinks in coming years, Col. John Ferrari told the Las Cruces Sun-News ( That makes it even more import to control costs so the base can retain those private projects.

“Nobody knows just how deep the cuts will be,” he said. “…But what we do know is that the testing done at White Sands is world class. But it is expensive to test there. Because of the economy, our customers are becoming more and more cost-sensitive. Only a fraction of the funding we receive for that testing comes from the Army; the [auth] rest has to come from the customers.”

So, senior White Sands leaders have taken it upon themselves to figure out a way to drive down the cost of testing at WSMR.

Ferrari took over at the base about three months ago, and he’s already seen significant changes.

Groundbreaking ceremonies have been conducted for a new medical clinic and police station to be built on the main post. The base is getting its first hotel, and just this week, a truck selling Pizza Hut pizzas began operations.

All of that is an improvement from 40 years ago, when the roads to White Sands from Las Cruces were two lanes and built from chip-seal asphalt. For that matter, Ferrari said the base has substantially changed since the early 1990s, when he was stationed at Fort Bliss, from 1992 until 1994.

But it’s what hasn’t changed that has made an impact on Ferrari.

“I’ve been impressed, from the start, on a lot of different levels,” Ferrari said Tuesday. “The technical expertise shown by the employees here is unmatched anywhere I’ve ever been. What they do amazes me.”

Ferrari said the workforce, most of whom live in Las Cruces, has earned wide acclaim and respect for the quality of work it has done since White Sands opened as a military weapons test and evaluation range on Jan. 9, 1945. Soldiers and civilian employees continue to turn conceptual ideas into reality, and Ferrari wants to be able to continue the initiative of taking a good thing and making it better.

He believes that can happen.

“The degree of support from the southern New Mexico community is impressive, too,” Ferrari said. “The communities of Las Cruces, Socorro, Ruidoso and Alamogordo have embraced White Sands’ mission, and they’ve also supported our soldiers, our engineers. The people in those communities have wrapped their arms around the 2nd Engineer Battalion, in support of the battalion, and that’s very impressive, too.”

Ferrari also praised the cooperation he and range officials have received from ranchers adjacent to the range.

In turn, Las Cruces civic leaders and many residents are equally impressed with Ferrari, and the soldier stationed at the base.

“From the first time I met him, I was really taken by what a sharp man he is,” Mayor Ken Miyagishima said. “I am completely confident that White Sands is in very good hands with Col. Ferrari.”

President Barack Obama has nominated Ferrari for promotion to the rank of brigadier general. The U.S. Senate must confirm the appointment.

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