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S.C. military leaders say they are pinching pennies

Oct. 23, 2013 - 06:43PM   |  
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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Commanders from South Carolina’s major military installations told Gov. Nikki Haley on Wednesday they are pinching pennies every way they can and in some cases are cutting back on training to deal with federal budget cuts.

“We’re not flying as much,” said Col. Clay Hall, commander of the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, home to some of the Air Force’s premier F-16 fighter squadrons.

Hall was one of more than a dozen military commanders who reviewed the status of their forces during their annual meeting with the governor.

They said the summer round of government furloughs, ongoing automatic budget cuts known as “sequestration” and the most recent government shutdown is producing a sense of uncertainty. And they said it is bound to affect the morale of their uniformed and civilian workers.

“We are facing decreased budgets in coming years,” Hall said. He added that his military mission “shows no signs of letting up” and that his units normally have about 15 to 20 percent of its men and women deployed at any given time. “We are trying to save a penny here, and a penny there,” he said.

“Our biggest challenge is uncertainty,” said Col. Jeffrey DeVore, commander of Joint Base Charleston, which sends its transport Air Force C-17s around the globe, but also includes a Navy installation with thousands of civilian employees who suffered through the recent furlough.

“The civilian furloughs hit us pretty good this year,” DeVore said. “It causes a lot of consternation, a lot of turbulence.”

State officials say South Carolina is home to eight military installations which support about 140,000 jobs and pump about $16 billion into the state’s economy.

Army Col. Steve Yackley, the deputy commander at Fort Jackson outside Columbia, said the post continues to train about 45,000 recruits annually, and expects to get the money to do so for the next two years. It is the Army’s largest training installation and trains about half the service’s new soldiers every year.

“We are a little protected,” Yackley said, given that training is key to the Army’s mission. But he added that the installation has to look for savings in other ways, such as cutting back severely on upkeep and maintenance. He said he worries about keeping facilities in good working order.

“We are deferring to next year, and to next year,” he said.

Coast Guard Capt. Ric Rodriguez told Haley that if the government shutdown had continued into this week, he was under orders not to travel to her meeting.

On a larger scale, the potential for ongoing automatic budget cuts will translate into fewer hours at sea, he said.

“Sequestration means less presence. We are limited in our fuel costs and I can’t be out there watching the fishing areas,” Rodriguez said.

Haley told the commanders she wants to help support the military, and would try to do whatever she could to help them and hoped to plead their case in Washington.

“It’s a scary time for military installations,” she said.

She urged the military installations and their civilian booster supporters to keep her informed about anything that might affect their future, particularly given any chance of a renewed base closure push.

“We have to be a little more aggressive on that, and you are my ammunition to do that,” she told the group.

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