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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — No large budget cuts are anticipated for U.S. Pacific Air Forces as the government prepares to enter the new fiscal year Oct. 1, according to the region’s top Air Force leader.

"We’ve been very fortunate that our financial folks have been able to garner a fair amount of year-end money from the Air Force, and we’ve used that to bridge our way into the next year," said Gen. Carrol H. "Howie" Chandler, the PACAF commander.

Some trade-offs will need to be made and priorities set, he said, but PACAF will have the money for "mission-critical" items.

Chandler made a brief stop at Misawa last week en route to Yokota Air Base, near Tokyo, where he was to be a guest speaker at Yokota’s Air Force ball over the weekend. While at Misawa, he flew in an F-16 and met with members of the 13th Fighter Squadron, which is headed to Iraq for a scheduled deployment next year.

Chandler said he wanted to thank Misawa airmen "for the work that they do every day" while continuing to deploy on Air and Space Expeditionary Force rotations.

"I know they and their families in many cases are far away from home," he said. "We’re going to do everything we can to support what they do."

To that end, Chandler said, the goal in PACAF is to maintain funding in quality-of-life programs for airmen and their families.

"We have to continue to balance quality of life and infrastructure with the other things that we do throughout the command but … that’s no different than what we’re seeing around the rest of the Air Force," he said.

One area already seeing reductions is flying hours. The Air Force has cut flying hours by 10 percent, a push that began this year amid rising jet fuel costs.

Chandler said PACAF has "the flying hours we need to meet our contingency requirements" and is making better use of flight simulators.

A veteran fighter pilot, Chandler said flight simulators can save wear and tear on aircraft. Practicing emergency procedures and "flying in instrument conditions" are examples of training better suited for flight simulators because of safety considerations, he said.

"Simulation is not necessarily good at replacing flying hours one for one, but it’s good at making those flying hours you have more productive," Chandler said.

But finding the right balance between simulated training and actual flying is especially important for less experienced pilots, he said.

"I would tell you, for our youngest aviators, nothing replaces getting in the airplane and flying it," he said. "We all understand that."

With Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ decision this summer not to further downsize the Air Force to about 317,000 personnel, Chandler hopes that PACAF will be able to increase the number of airmen in overstressed career fields, such as flight maintenance.

"We’ve been at this long enough in terms of the drawdown that we know where some of the inflicted pain is," he said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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