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Budget crunch keeps Air Force C-130s from Thailand exercise

In this 2010 file photo, members of the Royal Thai Air Force Parachute team and the U. S. Air Force jump from the back of a C-17 Globemaster as they conduct High Altitude Low Observance (HALO) jumps from the back of the jet above a drop zone more than 60 miles from Dom Muang Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand during Cope Tiger 2010.

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — C-130s from the 374th Airlift Wing would have been flying in Thailand this week for the Cope Tiger exercise if not for the federal budget crunch that’s driving Air Force commanders around the world to cut flying hours and TDYs.

“It was not the best use of the hours we have left,” 374th commander Col. Mark August said of his decision to pull out of the exercise.

“We haven’t nixed anything else yet,” August told Stars and Stripes at his Yokota office Wednesday as he discussed the fallout from sequestration and other cuts that have slashed his budget deeply. But “until the dust begins to settle on this, we don’t have a whole lot of extra capability.”

Pacific Air Forces has begun analyzing its scheduled exercises to preserve those that best align with the larger U.S. Pacific Command strategy, August said.

“We’re really looking at the priorities and objectives of our senior leaders,” he said.

August this week announced that the wing would cut flying hours by 25 percent and slash the base’s $2.7 million annual TDY budget by 60 percent.

The wing is now approving only “mission-critical” TDYs, and will have to delay sending some airmen to military education courses needed for promotion. August told airmen during an all-call Tuesday that those who cannot attend such courses would be given special consideration by their promotion boards. Squadron commanders will be exempt, he said.

“The Air Force says this is mission critical,” August said. “For us to emphasize and say the squadron is the fundamental fighting organization of the Air Force, those that will command those organizations need to go to that training.”

Those who do go TDY, however, should expect more stringent rules such as not being able to rent cars and being required to stay in on-base lodging and eat at base dining facilities, August said.

Military operations, flight hours, contracting and base sustainment are funded through a variety of different sources, all of which are being cut.

“If you look at my bottom-line dollars, what I have allocated for the rest of the fiscal year is half of what we planned for,” he said.

Yokota, along with other bases in Japan, is shutting off the heat early to base offices and housing and plans to delay turning on air-conditioning to cut utility costs. But the base’s hospital, schools and child-development center will be exempt from the “no-heat/no-cool” period.

Hoping to cut energy consumption by 5 percent, August said the base was dusting off plans implemented in 2011 in the aftermath of Japan’s devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.

While base workers and residents can expect dimmer offices and streets, officials were working to ensure that “the human element” was not ignored when deciding how to reduce energy, he said.

The Yokota Friendship Festival — a high-profile event that draws hundreds of thousands of Japanese visitors to the base’s flight line each year to ogle aircraft, munch carnival-style food and take in live music and fireworks — already has been canceled. The festival costs roughly $150,000.

“It’s regrettable,” August said. “We want to be great friends and neighbors [with the Japanese] but when you look an airman in the eye and they want to know why we can’t do some things but we can others, it’s important for us to recognize we can’t do some of those things.”

reed.charlie@stripes.com

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