FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Automatic federal budget cuts expected to kick in today may not be obvious at first but eventually have the potential to erode military readiness, Fort Bragg's commander said Thursday.
"It's more like the sun advancing across the sky," said Lt. Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, commander of Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps. "You'll notice changes over time. We hope that the duration is not such that the effects become really, really obvious, either to our soldiers or to our families here on Fort Bragg."
Unless Congress acts today, $85 billion is automatically cut from the budget through September.
The impact on Fort Bragg could be far-reaching. Soldiers will be cutting more grass and manning the gates at Fort Bragg's entry points, instead of contractors or civilian employees. Lines may become longer. Volunteers may be called upon to do more tasks.
However, Fort Bragg's Global Response Force brigade will receive equal priority for resources with units training for deployment to Afghanistan, Allyn said.
The Army trains with the Air Force to prepare the brigade of about 3,500 paratroopers to deploy on short notice to crises around the world. The training includes airdrops of people and equipment.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Darren McDew said he is concerned about anything that hurts the ability of the Army and Air Force to train for the Global Response Force mission. McDew, who was visiting Pope Field on Thursday, commands the 18th Air Force at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. His command is responsible for airlift, aerial refueling, aeromedical evacuation and emergency response.
"We know that the cuts that are coming will impact flying hours," McDew said. "Flying hours impact our ability to train, both short term and long term."
The readiness of other brigades besides the Global Response Force in the 82nd Airborne Division could degrade over time, Allyn said.
"The entire 82nd Airborne Division will not be trained to the same level," Allyn said. "That is a major change in how we have always approached our mission here at Fort Bragg."
Prolonged money shortages could create readiness problems in emergencies that require more than one brigade, he said.
Fort Bragg can handle a couple of months of reduced resources, he said, but problems could crop up late this year and early next year if financial problems drag on and become greater.
The training of infantry soldiers on Fort Bragg is relatively inexpensive, Allyn said.
"Frankly, the ammunition is already paid for," Allyn said. The training ranges will remain open, although soldiers may sometimes need to step in for civilians who operate the ranges.
"Our goal is for the trooper in the 82nd Airborne Division or any of our formations at Fort Bragg is that six months from now, they will say, 'Sequestration, what is that?' At the individual soldier level, they should not notice this affecting their training and readiness."
Soldiers, airmen and military retirees will continue to get paychecks, but civilian pay is in question if the across-the-board cuts remain in place for several months.
The change most apparent to families may be reduced access to services, Allyn said.
Pentagon officials have said most civilian workers worldwide would lose one day of work per week for 22 weeks, probably starting in late April. That is equivalent to a 20 percent pay cut.
About 8,500 civilian employees across Fort Bragg are subject to furlough, said Col. Jeff Sanborn, Fort Bragg's garrison commander.
"The real challenge is how do we maintain the services?" Sanborn said.
Fort Bragg would need to determine how to provide childcare on days when school is not in session because of civilian furloughs, Allyn said. The federal Fort Bragg schools serve more than 5,000 children in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade who live on the Amy post.
Womack Army Medical Center would be hit "a little more," because 65 percent of the workforce are civilians, said Col. Frank Christopher, deputy commander for clinical services.
"Most visible will be a longer wait for non-emergency appointments," Christopher said.
Womack will protect programs involving behavioral health and the treatment of combat-wounded soldiers and the readiness of deployable soldiers, Christopher said.
"Leadership is going to be absolutely central to our entire effort," Allyn said. "The chief of staff of the Army would tell you, 'We are going to lead our way through this fiscally uncertain environment, not manage our way through it.' The way we must do that is communicate the impacts as we identify them."