Shaw survives budget ax for now; Charleston loses 19 jobs

jwilkinson@thestate.comJuly 15, 2014 

Shaw Air Force Base was spared in this round of the Air Force’s budget cuts, losing no jobs, but Joint Base Charleston will have 19 positions eliminated.

The announced cuts were the first permanent jobs lost in South Carolina in what is expected to to be a deep reduction in the military following 13 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. State leaders are preparing to fight for the state’s seven installations, based mostly in Columbia, Charleston and Beaufort.

The installations and their missions, as well as a large National Guard, numerous defense contractors in the Upstate and a high number of retirees, especially on the coast, pump nearly $16 billion a year into the state’s economy, according to a study by the S.C. Department of Commerce.

“We realize there will be cuts down the road,” said Bill Bethea, chairman of the S.C. Military Base Task Force, which is charged by Gov. Nikki Haley with protecting and expanding missions at the installations. “The goal of the task force is to make South Carolina as well-positioned as possible so that we ultimately feel the least amount of these types of staffing reductions among our military installations.”

The Army is expecting the deepest cuts, with Fort Jackson planning for a worst-case reduction of nearly half of its 7,000 civilian and active duty workers. Midlands officials and the base’s commander, Maj. Gen. Bradley Becker, have said the cuts probably won’t be that deep.

No cuts to the Army have yet been made public. But the Air Force on Monday announced it would cut 3,459 higher headquarters positions in an effort to save $1.6 billion over the next five years.

“We are aggressively pursuing reductions within the first year, rather than spread them out over five years as allowed by (Department of Defense),” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in a release. “It’s better for airmen because it provides them predictability and allows us to re-stabilize our workforce sooner. It also allows us to harvest the savings earlier so that we can plow it back into readiness and some of our key modernization programs.”

Shaw is home to Air Force Central, the planning and logistics arm for air power in the Middle East and Southwest Asia; Ninth Air Force headquarters; as well as the 20th Fighter Wing, the largest F-16 fighter jet group in the nation.

“(Not losing jobs in this round) is wonderful news, although I think everything is still too tumultuous to not still be concerned,” said retired Maj. Gen. William “Dutch” Holland, executive director of the Shaw-Sumter Partnership for Progress and a former commander of Ninth Air Force. “We understand the fiscal constrains with all there services. We just want to support the people here. ”

Joint Base Charleston houses the 628th Air Base Wing, the parent of the 315th and 437th airlift wings, the main C-17 transport units on the East Coast. It also houses a host of other missions. A base spokesman on Tuesday was unable to identify the positions that will be eliminated.

Mary Graham of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, a member of the S.C. Military Base Task Force, said the cuts could have been worse.

“Frankly, I think we were relieved to see only 19 positions cut here,” Graham said. “When you look at some of the announcements, other areas took heavier hits than us.”

For instance, Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia will lose 742 jobs and Air Force Headquarters in the Pentagon will shed 734, according to the Air Force.

“We must change the way we are doing business if we are to meet the Air Force’s goal to reduce staffing functions by more than 20 percent,” Bill Booth, Air Force acting deputy chief management officer, said in a release. “Reducing higher headquarters’ staffs means we can save money that can be re-invested in getting ready for combat missions at the wing level.”

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