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Army plans for possibility of $175M in Hawaii cuts

HONOLULU — The Army laid out a worst-case budget scenario Thursday that includes the potential need to make about $175 million in cuts in Hawaii this fiscal year by reducing training, maintenance and base support — even as two brigades prepare for deployment to Af­ghani­stan.

That doesn't even include the further cost of furloughing more than 1,400 civilian employees for up to 22 days, which could be required under sequestration.

The 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Schofield Barracks, which is expected to head to Af­ghani­stan later this year, would have its more than $8 million budget to operate and maintain its armored vehicles cut back to $3 million, the Army said.

The 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, which just got back from Af­ghani­stan with its Black Hawk, Chinook and Kiowa helicopters, would see its flight training time reduced.

"We are planning, under the current budget constraints and guidance, that in the early part of the fourth quarter (starting in July), we will run out of flying hours," said Col. Mike Donnelly, a spokes­man for U.S. Army Pacific at Fort Shafter.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday that the nation's ability to confront security challenges around the world is at "very serious risk" because of the budget uncertainty that has come with a lack of an appropriations bill and separate threat of sequestration. The latter would mean a $500 billion defense cut over 10 years.

Panetta, in a speech at Georgetown University, called sequestration "legislative madness" that was designed to be so bad "that no one in their right mind would let it happen."

March 1 is the trigger for sequestration unless Congress acts, and the military services have spelled out possible outcomes in a high-stakes bid to engender action.

Under sequestration and with a continuing resolution in the absence of an appropriations bill, freezing spending at lower 2012 levels, the Defense Department would have to absorb $46 billion in sequester reductions over the remainder of this fiscal year and a $35 billion shortfall in operating funds for active-duty forces, Panetta said.

That would mean the furlough of as many as 800,000 civilians for up to 22 days — the equivalent of more than a month's pay.

"You don't think that's going to impact on our economy?" Panetta said. "You don't think that's going to impact on jobs? You don't think that's going to impact on our ability to recover from the recession?"

Panetta said the measures would shrink western Pacific naval operations by as much as one-third.

All of the services have frozen civilian hiring, are planning to cut temporary workers and are trimming base operating support.

The Navy identified the need for $110 million in cuts in Hawaii with steps that included the cancellation of a $35 million repair to the destroyer USS Chafee. That reduction also does not include furlough cuts.

Panetta said Air Force flying hours and weapons systems maintenance would be cut. Pacific Air Forces, headquartered in Hawaii, said Thursday it was determining the flying hours that could be eliminated, especially by the Hawaii Air National Guard.

"This is not a game," Panetta said. "This is reality. These steps would seriously damage the fragile American economy, and they would degrade our ability to respond to crisis precisely at a time of rising instability across the globe."

Donnelly, the U.S. Army Pacific spokes­man, said the layoffs of about 13 temporary and term Army employees in Hawaii were put on hold by Lt. Gen. Frank Wier­cin­ski, commanding general.

"Gen. Wiercinski's priority is basically taking care of people, and civilian pay is a priority, so he has elected to defer any decision on term or temporary employees until 1 April," Donnelly said.

U.S. Army Pacific said it has about 600 civilian employees between Fort Shafter and the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield.

U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii said it is planning for 22 days of furlough, potentially affecting its 871 employees. It's also curtailed civilian professional development training and education; allowed only "mission-essential" travel; reduced facilities sustainment to meet life, health and safety requirements; and canceled all restoration and modernization projects.

Donnelly said in the event that sequestration and up to 22 furlough days become a reality, decisions will have to be made how to implement that.

Army civilians help run U.S. Army Pacific's operations and intelligence center 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"So it's just not an option to say for everybody, ‘Hey, go home for 22 days.' You've got to spread that out. You've got to assess when, where and how they go on furlough," Donnelly said.

Both the 2nd Stryker Brigade and 3rd Brigade Combat Team are expected to send thousands of soldiers to Af­ghani­stan this summer, and both brigades were scheduled to go to the National Training Center in California for final training in March or April, officials said.

"I can only tell you that the training for the 25th Infantry Division and the brigades in the (planning cycle for Af­ghani­stan) will be affected," Donnelly said. How so is unclear.

"Uncertainty is one of the key themes here," he said.
 

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