Saturday, October 05, 2013

TOP STORY >> Mission continues despite cuts

Leader senior staff writer

Despite deep cuts in personnel and services, Little Rock Air Force Base’s C-130s continue to fly, train crews and maintainers and deploy, Col. Patrick J. Rhatigan, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, said Thursday.

That’s true of the base’s 189th Air National Guard training wing as well, according Maj. Matt Snead, the Arkansas National Guard’s public affair spokesman, but not for other guard aircraft, such as Blackhawk and Lakota helicopters.

“They are locked up,” Snead said. Maintenance workers for those helicopters and vehicles are furloughed

Snead said the longer the furloughs continue, the longer it will take to ready helicopters and vehicles for use.

“Darn right it affects readiness,” Snead said.

Rhatigan said Little Rock Air Force Base airmen were working harder to fill gaps left in service by the departure of the civilians, but that it takes longer to see a doctor or get a prescription filled, and C-130s are slower getting back on the flightline after maintenance and inspections.

The lights are off in at least some buildings at Camp Robinson. Snead was working in the dark.

The furloughs affected about 1,100 full-time employees, most of them dual-status, he said.

A dual-status federal employee is required to be a member of the Arkansas Army or Air National Guard to hold their full-time federal position. Many dual-status federal employees are veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. They are the only uniformed personnel facing furlough in the Department of Defense.

Monthly drill for another 10,000 Arkansas National Guardsmen has been postponed, at least until late October, Snead said.

At Little Rock Air Force Base, 350 of 625 were civilians furloughed. Adding 738 duel status National Guard civilians and another 294 employees of the Arkansas Military Department, a total of 1,382 full-time military employees have stayed home four days so far because Republicans have tied passage of a continuing budget resolution to dismembering the Affordable Care Act.

The full impact of the government shutdown on the Arkansas National Guard is not yet known, Snead said, and it depends on the length of the shutdown.

But the financial impact to Guard employees, most of them in Central Arkansas, is about $839,560 a week from full-time employees and another $3 million a month in weekend drill pay for Guardsmen around the state.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 13,000 guardsmen have been deployed, many of them to Iraq to Afghanistan, and the governor has called the Guard out for 300 missions, usually weather events.

Out of about 1,100 dual purpose technicians in the Guard, 215 are exempt from the furloughs, most of them because the 189th Air Education Wing’s critical mission of training pilots, crews and maintainers. Only 57 Army Guardsmen are exempt, Snead said.

He said it was important for Guardsmen to stay in contact with their units and to check social media — the Guard’s Facebook site in particular.