Furloughs feared at station

VIENNA – More than 400 civilian employees at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station are awaiting action by U.S. Congress that will determine if they will be required to take unpaid days off.

“They [civilian employees] are in virtually every aspect of our action out here,” said Master Sgt. Bob Barko Jr. of YARS, “They fly the planes, work on the planes, fight the fires …”

According to Barko, superintendent of public affairs, the furloughs would affect nearly every part of the station’s operations.

Employees at YARS are not alone in their concerns about the mandatory days off. The furloughs are set to affect many of the U.S. Defense Department’s 800,000 civilian employees.

The furloughs are among about $1.2 trillion in cuts that would go into effect March 1 unless Congress overrides a provision in the last year’s Budget Control Act that requires cuts if a plan isn’t reached to reduce the nation’s debt. The across-the-board cuts would occur over the next decade.

The temporary unpaid leave would be one day per week until the end of the fiscal year in September. They would begin at the the start of May, following a 30-day notice period required by the Defense Department.

In total, this would save the Defense Department an expected $5 billion. Locally, savings would be more than $3 million, as the station spent more than $30 million on civilian pay in 2012.

“In the event of sequestration, we will do everything we can to be able to continue to perform our core mission of providing for the security of the United States, but there is no mistaking that the rigid nature of the cuts forced upon this department, and their scale, will result in a serious erosion of readiness across the force,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said this week in a message to Defense Department employees work force.

Lacking specifics on how the station would be directly affected, Barko said the ripple effects are still unknown. However, he estimates a decrease in flying hours of 18 percent.

In 2012, the station flew about 5,200 hours in support of training and operational requirements. A decrease of 18 percent for five months would be equivalent to about 390 hours of flight.

“While the Department of Defense will drive the train on furloughs, the 910th will make every effort possible to circle our wagons around our priority missions,” said Brig. Gen. Brian E. Dominguez, 910th Airlift Wing commander.

The 910th Airlift Wing which is housed at the station has participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Joint Forge and Operations Enduring Freedoms in Afghanistan. The wing also conducts large-area fixed-wing aerial sprays across the nation.

“We prep right now for the worst-case scenario,” Barko said.