TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — Yes, the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration will affect how Travis does business, but the cuts will not keep the Air Force base and its airmen from carrying out their charge to move missions, take care of military dependents and protect the nation.
That’s what Travis commander Col. Dwight Sones stressed Tuesday before a meeting with community leaders. He said members of the Travis leadership team are determined to make it through the spending cuts and minimize disruptions as much as possible.
“The sky is not falling,” Sones said. “The sky is just changing color.”
Sones vowed that Travis will stay on top as the federal budget picture comes into focus.
Three dozen community leaders gathered to hear Sones discuss how federal cuts are affecting Travis Air Force Base and its operations.
Sequestration calls for $2.2 trillion in cuts to the federal budget over the next 10 years. The Department of Defense is expected to make $46 million in cuts this year.
Travis created a sequestration working group Monday. Its purpose is to work out all of the challenges posed by spending cuts, and to make sure that everyone is kept up to speed on the ongoing changes sent down from the nation’s capital. That includes long-term planning for base operations if Washington does not come up with a solution before the 2014 sequestration cuts kick in.
The Air Force directed all major commands on Jan. 14 to institute a temporary hiring freeze and limit expenses that are not critical to the mission as part of an Air Force-wide response to prepare for 2013 fiscal year uncertainties.
Expenses not deemed critical to the mission included supporting flying missions not directly related to readiness; stopping minor purchases; cutting nonessential travel to conferences or training seminars; and delaying nonemergency facility maintenance, restoration and modernization efforts.
The Air Force is looking to protect funding to its wartime operations and Wounded Warrior programs the most. It is working to protect programs related to supporting new defense strategies and programs to the greatest extent possible, Sones said.
Air Mobility Command is following with the top goal of funding its global mobility missions, identifying the easily reversible budget actions it can take and minimizing the effect on airmen and their families.
About 1,500 civilian employees on Travis are expecting to take a weekly furlough day, which translates to a 20 percent cut in their pay. The furlough days themselves mean that someone else will have to pick up their mission on the day that employee is off work, Sones said.
Suisun City Mayor Pete Sanchez asked how many of these employees live in Solano County and was told about two-thirds live here. Sanchez followed up, saying there are community groups and businesses in the towns surrounding Travis that can give these employees a helping hand.
Flying hours are expected to be cut by up to a third this year, which will affect aircrew currency and qualification missions. Any community event flights have been canceled.
“We will have to prioritize our missions,” Sones said.
Tuition assistance for service members working on college degrees has been suspended, but Sones said Travis is looking into other ways, such as grant assistance, to help out those airmen.
Vacaville City Councilman Curtis Hunt said he has fielded a considerable number of emails from retirees concerned about how spending cuts will affect their access to base facilities such as David Grant Medical Center, the base commissary and base exchange.
Sones said that some facilities, such as the base golf course and base exchange, will not be affected because of how they are funded. The base commissary has employees that are affected by the furlough. He said talks are taking place about the possibility of not opening for one day of the week.
David Grant has seen a limited number of its civilian employees get exempted from the furlough, but also faces some loss of care services. Neither the Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic next to David Grant or any of the VA services at the hospital will be affected by the automatic spending cuts, a VA representative said.
The 349th Reserve Air Mobility Wing will see 400 of its air reserve technicians and civilian employees affected by the furlough. Col. Matthew Burger said that will have a significant effect on the 349th Air Mobility Wing, but will not affect the wing’s readiness.
Community leaders present at the meeting made it clear they are willing to do whatever it takes to help Travis, its service members and civilian workers to make it through the spending cuts in the best form possible.
“Please let us know what we can do,” Fairfield Mayor Harry Price said.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.
This version corrects references to the base exchange and commissary in the 18th paragraph.