Roby, Turner discuss budget concerns with post leaders
As a two-year, bipartisan budget agreement for fiscal year 2014 and 2015 continues to make its way through Congress, United States Rep. Martha Roby and Chairman of the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee Rep. Michael Turner sat down with Fort Rucker leaders Dec. 17 at the post’s Headquarters Building to discuss the impacts of sequestration and the future of Army aviation.
The panel discussion included Maj. Gen. Kevin Mangum, commander of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence; Maj. Gen. William Crosby, program executive officer of the Program Executive Office of Aviation; Col. Frank Tate, director of aviation for the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff; and Col. John Lindsay, director of Army Aviation for the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff.
“I take every opportunity I can to share with my colleagues in Washington the great things that are happening right here at Fort Rucker, as well as Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, but there’s no better way for you (Turner) to understand what we have here than to see it,” Roby said.
During the past year, the Department of Defense has seen its fair share of budget constraints due to cuts and sequestration, but this past summer Fort Rucker leaders were able to avert the cuts on flight training hours and the student load thanks to cost efficiencies and savings.
However, as the Department of the Army continued to make tough budget decisions for fiscal year 2014, the DOA recently announced Fort Rucker will experience a reduction in the number of aviation soldiers trained by the post.
Mangum described to Roby and Turner the effects the post has felt the past year with sequestration and the fiscal restraints it expects to see with proposed cuts in the two-year budget plan.
In fiscal year 2013, Mangum said the post saw a $138 million decrement and trained less than 1,200 students.
For fiscal year 2014, Mangum said Fort Rucker will see a $112 million decrement and will reduce its flight-training load to 899 students.
“Over the past year we’ve realized a $250 million cut to our program here, which equates to about a 28 percent reduction of our flight-hour program,” he said.
Assessing the future challenges for Army aviation, Mangum said his greatest concern with further budget cuts and end strength reductions is readiness.
“We can tinker a bit with modernization, readiness or manning. My concern is that of those three, readiness is the piece that will take the hit in the near term,” he said. “Based on the fact that we’ve extended most of our modernization programs as far as we can… and we can’t bring down our forestructure as quickly as we’d like to or need to to be able to balance all of those priorities.”
In the short term, Mangum said the biggest challenge is going to be readiness and how to give the crews and units the best resources they need to maintain their training.
“(With budget decrements), not only will we cut the size of the team, we’ll potentially give them less time to practice,” he said. “So that really is the concern. Do they have the resource they need to be as highly trained regardless of how large our team is?”
Looking at the road ahead, Mangum said the post will need to learn how to balance Army aviation’s forestructure, modernization and readiness to meet global demands.
“We must now seize the opportunity to sustain the best force we can afford to ensure that enthusiasm and expectations do not exceed capabilities and future first battles,” he said. “Throughout this difficult process, we must also honor the sacrifice and commitment that are our soldiers and their families.”
Fortunately for the post, Roby said there is a key provision in the recently-passed National Defense Authorization Act, the major funding measure for the U.S. military, that will turn the sequester off for the military for the next two years.
The House passed the NDAA for fiscal year 2014 Dec. 12.
“The agreement that the House voted on last week, part of that agreement was that the defense sequester — the additional $20 billion in cuts that would have gone into effect in the beginning of January — is turned off,” Roby said. “So spending levels will remain for the military where they are now, and I believe that’s about $520 billion.”
Roby said she and Turner supported the agreement with hopes it would better protect and help the nation’s Armed Forces.
“The funding level is not where our commanders want it to be, but at least for the next two years they will have the potential for the flexibility and the certainty associated with those dollars going to what they need to prioritize those dollars to go to and that’s readiness,” Roby said. “It’s having a prepared force.”
Through his visit, Turner said he gained a lot of insight he plans to take back with him to Washington.
“I appreciate Martha Roby inviting me so that I can get firsthand from leadership here a perspective, but also to get to see what we need to do in the future,” he said. “I think the issue of training is the most important topic because it goes to how do we keep our services members for the challenges that they are absolutely going to face. Here at this facility, you have both real hands-on training and simulated training, and they had a great discussion of the need to make sure our services members get them both."
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