SANTA FE — Gov. Susana Martinez wants to add as many as 10 small military cemeteries to rural New Mexico.
She announced the idea Tuesday evening at the Bataan Memorial Building during a news conference attended by a few dozen soldiers and military veterans.
New Mexico is the fifth-largest state in terms of area, and Martinez says sheer distance makes it impractical for many families to bury military veterans in the two existing national cemeteries. They are in Santa Fe and Fort Bayard, near Silver City. A third option for some in southern New Mexico is Fort Bliss National Cemetery in El Paso.
She said she envisions adding cemeteries of 3 to 5 acres each. They would be in rural areas, the sites chosen based on data collected after public meetings with mayors and county commissioners later this year.
Tim Hale, secretary of the state Department of Veterans Services, said the state could add three or four military cemeteries in its first round of construction and eventually have up to 10. They would be in areas defined by 75-mile circles.
Hale came up with the idea for the collection of small cemeteries to better serve the state's military population. New Mexico has about 172,000 military veterans in a population of more than 2 million people.
Martinez said her administration would seek as much as $640,000 in public money during the 2014 legislative session to start the project. That money would be repaid to the state if the federal government authorizes more veterans cemeteries for New Mexico, she said.
The state would assume maintenance costs for perpetual care of the cemeteries, Hale said. They would be built on land already owned by the state or by municipalities.
Martinez said the project would pay a final tribute to more men and women who served their country.
"We're going to give this our biggest push," she said.
Milan Simonich is the Santa Fe bureau chief for Texas-New Mexico Newspapers. He can be reached at 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com.