'Inane' furloughs hit Calif. Guard's firefighting efforts
San Francisco Chronicle
SAN FRANCISCO — Some 2,000 California National Guard technicians who maintain critically needed firefighting aircraft have been furloughed during the federal government's partial shutdown — cuts that the Guard's leader called "inane."
The Guard also canceled all training this weekend because of what Maj. Gen. David Baldwin called Washington's refusal to recognize a need to "return to our militia roots."
In a letter to National Guard families that he posted on Facebook, Baldwin said his agency was in a dispute with Pentagon "bureaucrats" about which military jobs were critical to public safety. The cuts, he said, would have an "adverse impact on our ability to respond to state emergencies."
Baldwin said "lives are at stake" because of the "inane cuts and work stoppages" ordered by the Pentagon.
Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Thomas Keegan said in an interview Wednesday that 2,000 federally paid service technicians who work at 90 armories and eight air bases had been furloughed as a result of the partial shutdown. Those technicians maintain National Guard cargo planes and helicopters that respond statewide to major wildfires, he said.
"It's going to be much more difficult for the Guard to respond during an emergency," Keegan said.
He said Guard technicians had recently returned from helping to maintain 14 aircraft used to fight the Rim Fire, which burned 400 square miles in and around Yosemite National Park a month ago.
In his letter, Baldwin encouraged Guard members and their families to lobby members of Congress to pay for the technicians and the 20,000 Guard troops who are supposed to undergo two days of training each month.
"He's upset," Keegan said. "He thinks the Guard is getting a raw deal."
House Republicans, who have held up passage of a full government funding bill to try to cripple President Obama's health-insurance law, have proposed legislation that would restore money for the Guard in California and other states.
Democrats have resisted such piecemeal funding approaches, insisting that Congress deal with all government operations at the same time and preserve the health law.