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Over the past two weeks, Military Times has contacted hundreds of active-duty members to ask how the budget crunch is hitting home for them. Here's a sampling of what we heard:
Paying out of pocket to get the job done
1. A staff sergeant at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., is buying office supplies with her own money and telling her airmen to bring trash bags from home.
"I ended up spending $150 on a printer cartridge for the printer we use," the aircraft maintainer said. "These items should be provided and [the senior noncommissioned officer] should be stepping up and buying stuff out of pocket if needed, not just ignoring it and letting us airmen and young NCOs fix the problem.
"We are fed up."
2. A Marine sergeant at Camp Pendleton, Calif., says his unit can't order trash bags, pencils and paper until July; Marines are paying for such items out of pocket.
3. A Navy doctor in South Carolina was told there is no more money available to help him keep up with the certifications he needs to maintain his medical license. "I'm left to fork over hundreds to thousands of dollars per year to maintain my licensure, a prerequisite for actually treating patients."
4. A Navy master-at-arms in California said he has recently been paying so much out of pocket for expenses that should be covered by the military that he's thinking about deducting the expenses on his tax return.
5. A Marine officer at Camp Lejeune, N.C., says some schools and training programs are no longer handing out hard copies of reading materials, offering instead a digital file distributed by email. "That placed the onus on the individual to either use or buy a laptop or tablet, pay to have it all produced at Staples, or print it at home and burn through ink. … It was not required, but most realized that it would behoove them to adjust to this new electronic way of doing business."
Life on installations is changing
6. Soldiers at Fort Stewart, Ga., have begun cutting grass, raking pine straw and removing downed tree limbs as part of garrison commander's effort to save on contractor costs.
7. The Defense Commissary Agency announced that if sequestration kicks in, all commissaries worldwide will close each Wednesday from late April through September. DeCA officials say Wednesday is their slowest average sales day of the week.
8. Some church services were canceled for the rest of this fiscal year at Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif., because the base is low on money.
9. Families at Chièvres Air Base, Belgium, heard Feb. 12 that their "Self Help" store was closing, meaning military families will no longer have free access to lawn mowers and other yard equipment, rock salt for icy sidewalks, trash bags and other household goods.
10. Fitness center hours are being cut back at a number of bases, including Moody Air Force Base, Ga., and Naval Station Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. At Pearl Harbor, the gym used to close at 10 p.m.; now it's 8 p.m., which makes it harder for sailors who work overtime to get in a workout. A Navy hospital corpsman taking night classes at a nearby school said he can't make it to the gym in the evenings now. "We have to wake up even earlier the next workday to get a gym session in," he said.
11. An airman at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., says the honor guard's clothing budget was cut and some airmen must wear pants with hems too high above the shoes.
12. At Fort Drum, N.Y., officials in January said they would close an on-base child-care center, but immediate outcry from families prompted them to revise their plans and continue to offer some child care at a reduced level. "If they closed, it would be devastating to people around here," said Kristan Phillips, the mother of a 17-month-old boy and the wife of an Army staff sergeant. "I still wonder if this child-care center will stay open. I hope it does, but I'm a little worried about it."
13. A Marine sergeant says the gym at Camp Pendleton is no longer handing out fresh towels to save money on laundry costs and has canceled its satellite radio subscription.
TDY cut to the bone
14. At Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., an Air Force tech sergeant said he arrived at his unit a few months ago as temporary duty was being curtailed, so he has never met many of the people he works with day-to-day. "I've unfortunately had to learn about the units I'm supporting by reading up on them rather than a two-day site visit," he said. "A piece of the personal stake and professionalism is lost through teleconference, but with travel being so restricted, this is the new normal."
15. One Navy recruiter says travel budget cuts are forcing him to cover his largely rural region entirely by phone, which hurts his ability to draw the most high-value prospects. "I assure you that selling a highly qualified minority (and the family) to join the Navy over the phone is not going to happen," he said.
16. At an infantry training school for Army captains at Fort Benning, Ga., personnel officials used to come and meet face to face with junior officers to discuss their follow-on assignments, but one captain said that is now done by video teleconference.
17. An Army judge advocate general said a near-freeze on TDY money is keeping young military lawyers from getting the specialized training they need. "Practically all TDY travel has been canceled, depriving many soldiers of valuable training," the JAG said.
18. A major at Army Forces Command headquarters in North Carolina said travel to and between the command's 17 national locations was routine until this year, when it was sharply curtailed.
19. A soldier in Afghanistan said about a dozen troops from his brigade were planning to fly home to visit the Army's training center at Fort Polk, La., to debrief units slated to take over the same area in Afghanistan this year, but that trip was canceled at the last minute.
20. An Air Force pilot said the sudden dependence on videoconferencing has spiked demand for the few conference rooms that are equipped with video gear, especially facilities cleared for classified information.
21. A senior NCO Marine at Camp Lejeune says his unit's use of government vehicles is being tightly scrutinized.
22. One Army captain spent weeks haggling with bureaucrats to secure the right "funding codes" for a three-week class he's taking in South Carolina. "Now more than ever, it is hard to nail down who is going to pay for something. I had to fight with the unit that owns the schoolhouse for the school I am attending," the captain said.
23. The Marine Corps Reserve command in New Orleans says severe limits on temporary travel are hitting them especially hard. No travel can mean no training for reservists. "Our lifeblood here … is having the ability to travel around to our 183 Reserve sites," said one Marine officer.
Training takes big hits
24. A Marine lieutenant colonel at Quantico, Va., is urging his Marines to get their pistol and rifle qualifications out of the way early this year in case budget cuts shut down the shooting range. "We are trying to front-load all of the training we can into the early part of the year," the officer said.
25. At Fort Drum, simply getting rounds of ammunition for routine training is increasingly difficult, fueling frustration among many soldiers. "It seems now that it's a constant battle to get the required amount to train my guys. I get it eventually, but it is like pulling teeth," said 1st Lt. Ahmed Danso-Faried, a platoon leader with the 10th Mountain Division. "To be overly conservative of rounds makes no sense to me. Some things require thriftiness and any logical person won't deny that. But when it comes to training soldiers, it's almost criminally irresponsible to be thrifty."
26. A Marine corporal in Japan said his field operations training was a disappointment because each howitzer received only 90 rounds rather than the 500 that has been the standard allotment in recent years. "It made things go a lot slower," the corporal said.
27. The Navy recently canceled a nationwide drill involving base security operations and said it will instead hold a series of local security drills.
28. Army Medical Command in January abruptly canceled a two-month senior leadership course for E-7s because of money concerns at Joint Base San Antonio-Sam Houston, according to one Army sergeant first class.
29. The Army at Fort Hood, Texas, is scaling back Warrior Adventure Quest trips, part of a resilience program that sends soldiers just back from deployment out for high-adrenaline activities such as rock climbing, mountain biking and kayaking. It's designed to reduce future misbehavior and accidents. The program is shrinking from 17 slots to five, according to an Army official familiar with it.
30. At the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., funding at the library is running low, forcing the cancellation of many subscription services used by students and faculty. The dean is thinking of canceling the "semester abroad" program for this fall, and summer programs will be scaled back or canceled, according to a Jan. 13 memo obtained by Military Times.
31. At the Naval Academy, summer training may be canceled for midshipmen.
32. A Navy corpsman attending school in San Diego said she was told that her reassignment to her next duty station may be delayed due to budgetary problems.
33. An Army wife at Fort Hood is growing concerned after her husband, a helicopter crew chief, came home and told her his command says helicopters will be fixed only if they are considered unsafe. "Our guys, up to this point, have been really well-trained," the Army wife said. "I trust them. I have trusted the equipment. I just hope the Army doesn't give me reason not to."
34. At Minot Air Force Base, N.D., buying airmen a pair of cold-weather boots now requires a commander's approval. "This is a change from the days where there was no question on funding for boots. Airmen needed them; therefore, we purchased them with no question as to whether the funds were available," said deployment manager Jessi Gray.
35. The Navy Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds aerial demo teams are expected to cut their performance schedules.
36. A Marine gunnery sergeant at Camp Pendleton says printers are in short supply. "This causes the company clerk to constantly be bombarded with requests to print different items for different individuals. These issues will only get worse as the computers we currently have start to fail and there is no money to replace them," the gunny said.
37. The Marine Corps' engineer school at Camp Lejeune is considering canceling some classes for enlisted troops later this year.
38. An Army captain in a tank battalion at Fort Benning said "all training has been canceled through the fiscal year." His unit has decided that even starting up their M1A2 Abrams tanks is too expensive, and the command is talking about putting them on trailers for storage.
39. A Marine sergeant who recently deployed to Japan said the battalion-size field exercise that was planned was reduced to a company-size drill. "The whole point of a battalion field op is to have everyone working together. New guys are just missing out on that and aren't going to see that until combat happens," the sergeant said.
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