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(See table on operating budgets and cost-cutting methods at USAFE's five main operating bases at end of story.)

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — At Aviano Air Base, Italy, some airmen have said “arrivederci” to cleaning contractors and “buon giorno” to sweeping and mopping their office buildings.

At RAF Mildenhall, England, airmen can’t take the shuttle bus to the operations side of the base anymore.

And at Spangdahlem Air Base, aircraft maintainers are lugging their tools by foot along miles of flight line instead of riding in a pickup or van.

All these measures are ways that U.S. Air Forces in Europe base leaders are handling budget shortfalls in fiscal 2004.

Although some base public affairs officials say the shortfall has little connection to the global war on terrorism, some USAFE leaders and base commanders say the war is directly affecting their bottom line.

“I have to make due with less because that money is being spent for war-related costs,” said Col. Stephen Mueller, commander of the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem, which includes 3,600 airmen in three fighter squadrons and numerous support units.

With a bit more than two months to go in fiscal 2004, Spangdahlem’s operating budget is 27 percent less than it was last year, Mueller said.

USAFE, with five main operating bases and more than 36,000 active-duty airmen, has a fiscal 2004 budget of $1.5 billion. That’s about $136 million below the fiscal 2003 budget, said Col. Anthony Thompson, chief of USAFE’s Financial Analysis Division. He expects to enter fiscal 2005 with about the same shortfall.

USAFE leaders are hoping that Congress will appropriate contingency funds later this summer to boost base budgets, but there are no guarantees. And, Thompson said, most of those contingency funds would be line-item specific for war costs, giving base commanders little discretion on how the money is spent.

“The prospect of not getting any additional funding is very real, and that would cause some real hardships,” USAFE spokesman Capt. Rich Komurek said.

Meanwhile, bases are scrimping and saving to make it through the fiscal year.

Trimming the fat

Like most USAFE base commanders, Mueller and his troops have found creative ways to stretch their limited dollars.

For example, maintenance or repairs on all but mission-essential vehicles, such as aircraft tugs and pallet loaders, are being postponed.

The policy sometimes puts aircraft maintainers in a bind. Without the passenger vans and pickups they usually rely on to get around the base’s lengthy flight line, maintainers have to hoof it, sometimes pushing their heavy tool boxes in front of them.

“We have a lot of folks who end up walking from aircraft to aircraft to do the job,” said Tech. Sgt. Paul Pemberton, program manager for the 52nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, which repairs and maintains all the wing’s F-16 and A-10 jets.

“When it’s snowing or raining, that can be a real pain,” said Pemberton, 37, of Atlanta.

While the unit has been looking for cost savings for some time, Pemberton said the situation has been “critical” for about three months. As of last week, 18 of the unit’s 68 vehicles were parked to save on maintenance costs, he said.

Mostly, the maintainers are sucking up the extra exercise, understanding that the war takes precedence over personal comfort. But jobs do take longer, Pemberton said.

“You can’t accomplish the efficiency that you’d like,” he said. “In essence, it’s a burden. But they do overcome.”

Some bases, such as Aviano, are axing “luxuries” such as cleaning contractors, leaving airmen to tidy up their work spaces.

Airman 1st Class Daniel Meng, a communications security accountant, just finished his two-week cleaning detail to mop, sweep and take out the trash at Aviano’s 31st Fighter Wing headquarters building.

“At first I didn’t like it, but after I started doing it I realized it was important,” Meng, 20, said. “I treated it like my regular job.”

Higher priorities

The cutbacks reflect the price tag of the global war on terrorism, which has forced bases to spend more money on troop deployments, additional supplies and movement of equipment.

In 2004 alone, Congress has approved $126.1 billion for Iraq, with an additional $25 billion headed for congressional approval, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

“We have focused on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and getting the very best equipment for the people who are fighting the war,” U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R.-Calif., chairmen of the House Armed Services Committee, said during a June 30 visit to Ramstein.

“Longer term projects that are less relevant to the immediate war fight, some military construction and some things you’d like to have for the comfort of troops in the rear” have been postponed, he said.

“For the time being, we think we can handle that,” Hunter said.

In USAFE, that means luxuries that airmen had come to expect during peacetime, such as unlimited towels in the gym or someone to take out the trash, are “pushed aside” when the service is on a war footing, Thompson said.

“It becomes a bare-bones baseline budget,” he said. “It’s always mission first: fly or fight. These are war-fighting costs.”

One Pentagon official said President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld are fully aware of the base operating budget crunch.

“It is true that those accounts have not been executed to the predicted budget level because of the war,” said Raymond DuBois Jr., deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment.

DuBois, who joined Hunter in the June visit to Ramstein, said Pentagon leaders hope to replenish base coffers with the $25 billion supplemental before the August congressional recess, as well as another supplemental next year.

Hearing that news, Pemberton, the Spangdahlem aircraft maintainer, said: “Good grief. I hope so.”

Paying the bills

Mildenhall, home of the busy 100th Air Refueling Wing, is spending more money on equipping troops for war or replacing airmen while they are gone. As of June, $6.8 million — more than 7 percent of the base’s operating budget — was spent on war-related costs, base officials said.

That includes such things as $270,000 on “personnel and support items” such as clothing, all-purpose bags and travel. An additional $540,000 went to pay for contracted cooks to replace deployed personnel, and $1.5 million was spent to improve force-protection measures, base officials said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

RAF Lakenheath, England, home of the 48th Fighter Wing, has spent roughly $6.5 million to support worldwide contingencies in fiscal 2004, a base spokesman said. Its fighter squadrons recently returned from a three-month tour in Iraq.

At Aviano, about $31.1 million — nearly 17 percent of its operating budget this fiscal year — is going toward war-fighting preparation, equipment, supplies and temporary duty assignments, base officials said.

And at Ramstein Air Base, $31.7 million of the 435th Air Base Wing’s $197.2 million budget is being spent on the global war on terrorism, spokeswoman Darlene Cowsert said.

With no end in sight for the war, USAFE leaders do worry about continuing shortfalls back in garrison.

Further cuts may begin to affect troop morale — a concern the Air Force takes seriously.

“We have not reached that point,” Thompson said. “We are not there yet. If we go through another year like this in 2005, and get into 2006 and it’s like this — then we’re building toward impacting quality of life.”

USAFE's budget battle

Operating budgets for U.S. Air Forces in Europe’s five main operating bases, and some of the ways those bases are finding to cut costs:

Aviano Air Base

OPERATING

BUDGET

Fiscal 2003: $215.1 million

Fiscal 2004 to date: $187.1 million

Shortfall: $28 million or 13 percent

EXAMPLES OF

COST-CUTTING METHODS

¶ 12-week civilian hiring freeze

¶ Postponed opening of a temporary lodging facility

¶ Parking nonmission-critical vehicles

¶ Pared down base cleaning contracts

¶ No free towels at fitness center; airmen must bring their own

RAF Lakenheath

Fiscal 2003: $237 million

Fiscal 2004: $231 million

Shortfall: $6 million or 3 percent.

¶ Limiting temporary duty assignments. For example, the 48th Fighter Wing Comptroller Squadron is bringing instructors for financial analysis and budget courses to Lakenheath rather than sending students TDY to their courses.

RAF Mildenhall

Fiscal 2003: $116.4 million

Fiscal 2004 to date: $87.5 million

Shortfall: $28.9 million or 25 percent

¶ Canceled shuttle bus to operations side of base

¶ Postponed annual repairs on snow-removal equipment

¶ Postponed maintenance on about 60 of 720 nonmission-essential vehicles

Ramstein Air Base

435th Air Base Wing

Fiscal 2004 (Jan.-July): $197.2 million*

Shortfall: Approximately $3 million or 1 percent

¶ Limited temporary duty assignments, saving $200,000 in last four months of the fiscal year

¶ Temporary freeze on civilian hires

¶ Postponed maintenance on 58 of its 2,509-vehicle fleet

Spangdahlem Air Base

Fiscal 2003: $164.5 million

Fiscal 2004 to date: $120.4 million

Shortfall: $44.1 million or 27 percent.

¶ Postponed purchase of new barracks furniture, meaning airmen have to buy their own amenities such as refrigerators

¶ Postponing maintenance on at least 50 of its 1,000 official vehicles

¶ Paring down TDYs and certain training courses

*Ramstein figures do not include fiscal 2003 figures because the 435th AB Wing was formed in January 2004.

SOURCE: USAFE bases.


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