Federal budget crunch idles Guard units across U.S.
CINCINNATI -- Many of the nation's citizen-soldiers, whose motto is "Always Ready, Always There," won't be at regular training drills this weekend because of a federal funding shortfall.
Tens of thousands of Army National Guard members from New Hampshire to Hawaii have been idled because of a $101 million gap that has led to drills being postponed and travel being suspended, National Guard spokesman Capt. John Fesler said. Meanwhile, there are efforts underway in Congress to get funding reallocated so drills can be held later this month and so Guard members will get pay they were counting on.
Decisions to postpone or cancel drills were being made by state Guard leaders. Among states that announced they put off training exercises are Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Utah. Some, including Alaska, Oregon and Vermont, planned to go ahead as scheduled.
Among reasons for the shortfall are fewer Guard deployments overseas that are funded separately and higher-than-expected attendance for training paid by the Guard.
"The National Guard is committed to resolving the issue with least impact to our citizen-soldiers and ensuring they are ready for missions whether at home or overseas," Fesler said.
The Ohio National Guard's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Deborah Ashenhurst, announced postponement in a video last week. She said drills were being rescheduled to the end of the month in hopes that funding will be available by then.
"We're very much aware that this action will be at best an inconvenience for all of you and will have varying degrees of economic impact across the force," Ashenhurst said in the video message. "We're taking this action as a last resort."
Most of the nation's 350,000 Army Guard members are part time, and many have full-time civilian jobs. They get paid for readiness training, earning hundreds of dollars for a weekend of drills depending on their rank. They also get credits that build toward retirement benefits.
"When you're a young college student and working hard to make ends meet and trying to serve your country right now, it's not good," said Robbie McGalliard, a 27-year-old artillery gunner in the Georgia National Guard. He would have been at Fort Stewart this weekend firing 105mm howitzer shells in his training, earning about $350.
"It takes away an opportunity for us to train and be mission-capable," he said.
The Guards function as reserve armed forces and can be activated by the president for U.S. military action or called out by their governors to help with natural disasters or civil unrest. Ohio Guard members were called last month to help with water purification and delivery during a drinking water emergency in the Toledo area, while Missouri National Guard members went to Ferguson to help deal with violent protests after police shot a black teenager.
The Kentucky National Guard had firing practice planned that it will try to get done at the end of the month, said spokesman Lt. Col. Kirk Hilbrecht.
"All the ammo, all the food ... you're going to have to re-contract that for another time. Most contractors were able to be flexible," Hilbrecht said. "We were fortunate that we were able to relay things on. Other states may not have been so lucky."
A spokesman for the New Hampshire National Guard said postponement will affect 140 soldiers.
"Unfortunately, it's going to cause a little bit of discomfort for some," said Lt. Col. Greg Heilshorn.
Drills have been postponed and pay delayed in past years during federal government shutdowns or because of budget cutbacks.
"We're used to these obstacles and short-notice changes," said Capt. Will Martin of the California National Guard. "It's something we're learning to navigate."
Maj. Gen. Jim Butterworth, adjutant general of the Georgia National Guard, said he and other Guard leaders were unhappy with a lack of warning about the shortfall.
"There are definitely some unhappy adjutants general and I'm one of them," he told The Associated Press.
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