Wednesday, October 09, 2013

EDITORIAL >> LRAFB gets civilians back

Little Rock Air Force Base is beginning to return to normal after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel bypassed congressional dysfunction and recalled 350,000 civilian employees who had been furloughed because of the federal government’s shutdown.

Our local military officials were clear about the effect the furloughs were having on the base. About 350 civilian employees — just over half the civilians who work on base — were sent home without pay last week. There’s no sign Congress is ready to end its theatrical shutdown.

Col. Patrick Rhatigan, the commander of the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, told The Leader last week, “It feels like a ghost town. We need those civilians to do our mission. We don’t have any extra people or money. I can guarantee you that. These civilians have been through the wringer. They were furloughed for six days this summer because of sequestration,” the colonel said.

Maj. Matt Snead, who is the Arkansas National Guard’s public affairs spokesman, told us the military will be less prepared for war and other missions because of the furloughs. “Darn right it affects readiness,” Snead said. The Guard even had to ground Blackhawk and Lakota helicopters. “They are locked up,” Snead said, because maintenance workers for those helicopters have been furloughed.

Rhatigan’s exasperation was also clear. “Right now, I have a crisis to deal with,” the commander said. “We have civilians furloughed. Anything people can do to help is appreciated.”

As civilian workers go without a paycheck and there is uncertainty about pay for military members, Rhatigan says it’s more important than ever for the local community to show its support for the air base. He pleaded with the community to lend a hand to his airmen and their civilian teammates.

“When people say they support our airmen, this is when we need their support because there are a lot of airmen as well as civilians living from paycheck to paycheck. It’s breaking trust with the people who signed up voluntarily to serve their country,” Rhatigan said.

“We’ve got folks in the combat mission, and we’ve got folks in the training mission. That’s not going away anytime soon. The enemy is indifferent to sequestration or government shutdowns. So we have to focus on that mission. We need our civilians to get our mission done. I need those civilians back,” he continued.

Congress should stop playing games with Little Rock Air Force Base and with our government’s operations. If they dislike the Affordable Care Act, they should work to improve it rather than demanding that it be postponed or abolished. The government shutdown is perhaps the most ideological, partisan and economically hazardous of any tactic to oppose a single policy initiative in our nation’s history.

Americans want to see a functional Congress more than they want to obstruct Obamacare.