Proposed cuts could force Coast Guardsmen to do more with less

Crew from Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City, Mich., conduct hoist training with a 25-foot response boat in Lake Michigan, July 4, 2014.


By MARK JOHNSON | The Record-Eagle | Published: March 12, 2017

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (Tribune News Service) — Resource and personnel reductions were commonplace during Tom Backers' time in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Officials implemented budget cuts in different areas and force reductions to eliminate 10 to 12 percent of the enlisted Coast Guardsmen three times during Backers' 16 years in the military branch, he said.

"They had already cut us back pretty good," Backers said, adding that many joked the New York Police Department outnumbered the entire military branch at times.

Coast Guard leaders worked to make the financial and personnel cuts work, and today's leaders may need to make similar adaptations if proposed future cuts come to fruition, he said.

President Donald Trump's administration proposed to cut the Coast Guard's $9.1 billion budget by 14 percent and use the funds to boost support for immigration enforcement, according to news reports and congressional sources.

U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City Cmdr. Gregory Matyas said Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security officials continue "pre-decisional" discussions regarding the proposed budget. He said budgets fluctuate and can change before they're enacted.

Matyas said it is too early to determine what kind of impact the budget cut could have on Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City and declined to speculate.

Frankfort Coast Guard Station Chief Joe Baxter did not have information on the proposed cuts.

The cuts would decrease the Coast Guard's budget by about $1.3 billion to $7.8 billion and could mean reducing fuel usage, training missions and flights, Backers said.

The 14 percent thinning likely will be negotiated down and other government entities could step in if the cut leads to a significant impact, he said.

"If it affects their mission, I'm pretty sure the Department of Homeland Security will make sure it doesn't become a burden," Backers said.

Grand Traverse County Commissioner and 20-year Coast Guard veteran Bob Johnson wasn't surprised by the proposed cut.

He spent his service time stationed in Miami, Cape Cod, Mass. and Corpus Christie, Texas and said he watched more cuts come to the Coast Guard than most branches.

"It always seems we are the red-headed step child of the military forces and get the brunt of the budget cuts," he said.

Johnson questioned whether lawmakers thoroughly understand the importance of the role Coast Guardsmen play. Government officials rarely fund the branch adequately and force officials to do "a lot with a little," he said.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters opposes the budget slash and reiterated the importance of the Coast Guard in serving and protecting the country. Coast Guardsmen would be crucial in responding to oil spills, including any disaster in the Great Lakes.

Additionally, Matyas supplied statistics that show Coast Guardsmen around the country saved 5,174 lives last year, helped address illegal immigration and reported to thousands of environmental threats.

"This draconian cut shows that the president doesn't understand the role the Coast Guard plays," Peters said. "It makes no sense."

Backers said the proposed cuts make the futures of Coast Guardsmen nationwide a bit foggy, especially those who may not be looking to make the Coast Guard a career.

Those who may not perform as well as others likely would be the first to go, he said.

The proposal would slash resources and force the branch to continue working with less, but Backers expects them to respond and continue fulfilling their duties.

"You're dealing with the same mission, with fewer capabilities and essentials, so it gets a little tough," he said. "But, like I said, they suck it up and keep going."

Erin Sloan contributed to this report.

(c) 2017 The Record-Eagle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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