Florida's Military Community Prepares for Cuts
Today is Sequestration Day – the day that Congress’ mandatory budget cuts kick into gear a minute before midnight. If that happens, it will take weeks, even months before the true impact is felt.
Florida’s Defense Industry and Military Bases
Gov. Rick Scott is certain of one thing - the mandatory budget cuts will severely hurt Florida’s defense industry. He says it contributes more than $73 billion and 754,000 jobs to the state economy.
And Scott is worried about the military bases and installations, especially parts of the Panhandle, where 35 percent of the economy is linked to the military.
“It’s going to hurt us. We’re a big military state,” Scott said Wednesday during a visit to Lakeland.”We’re the most military friendly state. We’ve got 20 military bases, three unified commands. They’ve got to do the right thing up there.”
The governor wrote a letter earlier this week to President Obama stating that sequestration will mean “dramatic reductions to our National Guard which threatens our ability to respond to wildfires this spring and hurricanes this summer.”
Scott called the budget situation “disappointing” adding that Washington must balance its budget and prioritize needs like states have to.
MacDill Air Force Base Cuts
MacDill Commander Col. Scott DeThomas said some smaller facility projects could be delayed. But the bigger impact would hit his employees. As base commander, DeThomas supervises about a third of the 3,000 civilian workers on base. Many of those civilians face furloughs beginning in late April that would equate to a 20 percent pay cut.
“So, it’s going to be a dramatic impact on the base how we do business to lose basically 20 percent of the force,” DeThomas said. “The third big piece that’s going to be a great impact is on the mission.”
DeThomas is receiving guidance from his commanders on where to reduce costs.
As commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing, what concerns DeThomas most is a 20 percent cut in flying of the refueling tankers and Gulfstream jets.
“What you’ll probably see is maybe some men, currency items, instead of being very proficient, you might be minimally qualified to fly the plane,” DeThomas said. “Depending on how we institute the cuts, you might see us take people off being current altogether and just sit them for a short period of time in hopes that once we get through the end of the year we’ll get back to flying normal.”
He is concerned the cut in flying will decrease readiness among airman-- from boom operators to pilots.
“When the call comes, I may or may not be able to answer the call with the right amount or the right flavor because of the fact that we’ve allowed the training to slip,” DeThomas said.
The commander is also is preparing his military families for the stress that comes with budget cuts. A family resiliency training session is scheduled for families throughout the wing.
“We’ll bring families out, we’ll introduce some of the tools that will prepare them mentally, physically, socially and economically for being able to handle the burdens that may come with sequestration.”
Florida’s Veteran Population
Veterans are another segment of Florida’s military community. Reportedly, their benefits are not a part of the automatic cuts. However, Michael Dakduk, executive director of Student Veterans of America, is skeptical.
“You wonder are there administrative cuts? There has been a bit of gray area on what could be cut in the VA,” Dakduk said during his visit Thursday to the University of South Florida SVA chapter.
Dakduk is specifically worried about the Transition Assistance Program, called TAP. It helps active duty military transition into civilian life.
“When we talk about TAP that’s an interagency program, so a different agency is affected by that,” Dakduk said. “It will affect the program.”
That would mean less opportunity for veterans seeking help with education, entrepreneurship and technical training as they leave the military.