By Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill
National Guard Bureau
ARLINGTON, Va. (2/21/13) - National Guard members nationwide – especially military technicians – could be affected by the Defense Department’s Wednesday announcement of the possible furlough without pay of civilian employees.
The Defense Department’s 800,000 defense civilians perform critical functions like maintenance, intelligence, logistics, contracting and health care. The department is greatly concerned that furloughs will substantially harm its ability to reset and restore the force's full-spectrum combat capability after more than a decade of hard fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The unpaid furloughs would likely be one day per week for the last 22 weeks of the fiscal year, from late April through September, effectively a 20 percent pay cut for Defense Department civilians, with an expected $5 billion in savings.
More than half of the National Guard’s full-time members may be furloughed, resulting in maintenance backlogs for all states and curtailment of critical training, especially aviation crew training, that potentially cripples one of the essential 10 capabilities that governors and first responders rely upon in disaster situations, National Guard officials said.
Readiness of nearly 13,000 Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen assigned to National Guard that mitigate the effects of chemical, biological and nuclear terrorist attacks or industrial accidents here in the United States would suffer as exercises and training are either delayed or canceled by reductions in operations and maintenance funding.
The furlough is just one of the potential impacts of a looming sequestration deadline now less than 10 days away. There also is the prospect of a yearlong continuing resolution.
“In the event of sequestration we will do everything we can to be able to continue to perform our core mission of providing for the security of the United States, but there is no mistaking that the rigid nature of the cuts forced upon this department, and their scale, will result in a serious erosion of readiness across the force,” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said in a statement released today.
Elected, appointed and uniformed Defense Department leaders have sounded repeated warnings about the potential impact of sequestration and a continuing resolution on national security. Army Gen. Frank Grass, the chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called it potentially “devastating” to the Defense Department and the National Guard.
“The greatest threat the National Guard faces today is continued uncertainty over the budget and the risk of even greater sequestration cuts,” Grass said. “Sequestration would have a devastating impact on our readiness, modernization and workforce.”
The National Guard is the only part of the Army and Air Force where Soldiers and Airmen would be directly affected: In addition to civilian furloughs, Army and Air National Guard military technicians could be furloughed, temporary technicians could be terminated and vacant positions could be frozen.
“We face the potential furlough of civilians and military technicians who provide day-to-day maintenance and training of Soldiers and Airmen in the states and territories,” Grass said. “One potential readiness impact is a decrease in response time and capabilities to respond to fires, floods and defense support of civil authorities events in the homeland.
“On the Army National Guard side, we face the prospect of a rapid return to year-2000 readiness levels, consistent with a time when the National Guard was postured as a strategic reserve,” Grass said. “This would be a giant step backward to pre-Sept. 11, 2001, readiness levels at a time of global uncertainty.”
Defense officials have also warned of potential second- and third-order effects and unintended consequences from sequestration.
“The National Guard has installations, wings and armories in more than 3,000 communities in every state and territory and the District of Columbia,” Grass said. “Potential furloughs and cuts will gravely impact local economies.”
Other immediate, potential impacts on the National Guard include:
Longer-term impacts anticipated by National Guard leaders include declining retention rates because of decreased training opportunities, deployment opportunities, declining equipment, and little or no opportunity for career progression.
“My highest priority is that we in the National Guard leadership do everything in our power to minimize the impact of this on our most important asset, our people,” Grass said.
“A strong National Guard comes from a strong and ready active component,” Grass said. “We have the opportunity to leverage and maintain this operational reserve and apply it more broadly to serve our national defense strategy. The value of the National Guard is well-documented.
“Regardless of fiscal constraints, the National Guard will continue to do what Citizen-Soldiers and –Airmen have done for more than 376 years: Meet emerging challenges and safeguard our nation and communities.”