The Ohio National Guard may not be able to respond as quickly to natural disasters and 1,800 technical civilian workers could be furloughed if massive defense budget cuts strike, the commanding general of theservice branch told the Dayton Daily News.
Aerial refueling tankers at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base near Columbus could be grounded from supporting training missions and the impact on the continuous alert status of F-16 fighter jets with the 180th Fighter Wing in Toledo remains unknown, said Maj. Gen. Deborah A. Ashenhurst, adjutant general of more than 16,000 Air and Army National Guard troops in Ohio.
“The impacts can go pretty deep,” she said. “I’m not going to say the sky is falling, but, by golly, the clouds are pretty low.”
Like other branches of the military, the Air and Army National Guard confront automatic spending reductions should sequestration be triggered March 1. The cuts would reduce military spending by nearly $500 billion over a decade in addition to $487 billion in cuts the Pentagon has already agreed to absorb.
“This isn’t a Republican issue. This isn’t a Democratic issue,”said John Goheen, a spokesman with the National Guard Association of the United States, a non-partisan group that lobbies for Guard interests in Washington, D.C. “This is an issue that needs to be resolved. The nation needs a budget in order to plan.”
In the Ohio National Guard, Ashenhurst said the reductions would hit personnel, equipment and facility maintenance, and training. The state military branch had an estimated budget of about $640 million in the last fiscal year, according to Dave Pagnard, deputy director of communications with the Ohio Office of Budget and Management. An exact dollar figure for how much the cuts might total was not available, but the Department of Defense has said across the board cuts could amount to at least 9 percent, with some exceptions.
State governors across the nation have traditionally relied on National Guard troops to respond to disasters or emergencies in a crisis. Ashenhurst said it may not be as easy to send Guardsmen quickly if readiness suffers because of imposed budget cuts.
“The potential exists that we would not be able to respond as quickly,” she said in a telephone interview from Ohio National Guard headquarters in Columbus. “If this goes on for too long, I cannot truly say whether or not our equipment will be functional for that type of emergency.”
The U.S. Army ensures National Guard troops are well-trained for deployment overseas, but funding to respond to local emergencies is not a top priority, the two-star general said.
“What they haven’t considered is that the National Guard has this dual role and we have this obligation to our fellow citizens,” she said. “It’s not a mission they consider when they’re thinking about what they need in the National Guard.”
If budget pressures persist, the Guard could furlough about 1,800 technical workers for 22 non-consecutive days across the state, officials said. It’s still uncertain how 283 temporary technicians might be affected, according to Ohio National Guard spokesman James Sims.
Nationwide, the Guard has 53,000 dual-status employees, or Guardsmen who spend weekends in uniform and serve double duty as civilian technical workers during the week, Goheen said.
Civilian technical workers have responsibilities to maintain aircraft, trucks and Humvees to managing payrolls and running training ranges, among other duties.
“They are the ones that keep the Guard going during the week,” Goheen said. “They’re not being around one day a week will be felt.”
Maj. Matthew S. Woodruff, executive officer of the 2-107th Calvary Squadron in Hamilton, said,“If we had to furlough our (civilian) technicians, maintenance would stop. So that would be a big impact on our readiness across the state, not just this unit.”
The battalion has more than 400 Guardsmen in Hamilton, Lebanon, Greenville and Xenia. Many have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. The unit itself could lose two civilian technicians to furloughs, people who handle preparing orders for soldiers and inspect vehicles and weapons, among other things, he said.
Ashenhurst said some of the 18 KC-135 refueling tankers with the 121st Air Refueling Wing at Rickenbacker could be grounded. Tankers supporting the war effort would still fly missions, but she had concerns how long those flights might continue with less money available.
“Eventually, it would become suspect if we are able to support the war effort,” she said.
Col. Gregory N. Schnulo, commander of the 178th Fighter Wing at Springfield Air National Guard Base, said his unit of more than 800 people has waited for directions on what could happen. The southwest Ohio unit has about 200 civilian employees.
The Fighter Wing has a dual mission of remotely flying unmanned aerial vehicles overseas and intelligence and reconnaissance missions.
“We’re all just standing by for information right now,” he said. “We’ll deal with whatever comes down.”
By Barrie Barber - Dayton Daily News, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)
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