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US Air Force Facing Cuts in Manpower, Flying Hours

The U.S. military is getting ready for the impact of big automatic budget cuts, in what’s termed "sequestration." The Defense Department faces bigger cuts than any other agency. For the 459th Air Refueling Reserve Wing at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, that means pay cuts and reductions in flying hours, right before a scheduled deployment.

Captain Frank Gilliard flies an air refueling tanker - a KC-135. “The 135 can also be set up as a hospital,” he said.

He and all other Air Force pilots are facing an 18 percent cut in flying hours. That means less time in the air to refuel other planes out on missions. “Yes, readiness definitely could be affected,” Gilliard said.

All reserve civilians will be furloughed one day a week if the budget cuts go into effect. “It’s going to be tough. It's going to be tough,” Gilliard said.

That’s a 20 percent pay cut.

"Whew. It can cut into a lot of things, just like I have my home, I have my basic utilities, day to day living,” Gilliard said.

Senior Airman Kevin Weedn maintains the KC-135 and also serves as a trainer. He already downgraded his cellphone plan, sold his second car and is rethinking his upcoming wedding.

“Our plans to pay for our own wedding is hard. I am putting aside money we have now. I am able to do it, but it’s just going to be a little tight,” Weedn said.

Weedn and Gilliard are among the 230 civilian reservists with the KC-135s who face cuts at Andrews Air Force Base.

Their primary mission is twofold -- to refuel other planes in flight and to train pilots how to connect and refuel. But their plane is aging -- the KC-135s here were built in the late 1950s.

The plane still carries some relics of the past-- like this sextant port. The navigator would pop open the valve to gaze at the stars and plot his course.

A Boeing contract would replace these planes with newer models … but the military is waiting for Congress to approve that funding, too.

Colonel William Mason is the wing commander.

But his status does not protect his pay either -- Col. Mason is withdrawing a savings account to pay for his daughter's college education. He says the sequestration may actually cost the Air Force more.

"It costs more to let somebody not fly and try to get them retrained than to continue flying them throughout the month and maintain that readiness," Mason said.

Colonel Mason says if the cuts go could take his wing up to a year to recover.

None of these cuts has been made here yet. But if lawmakers take no action to stop them…much of the needed funding will simply disappear.
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    Carolyn Presutti

    Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters. She has also won numerous Associated Press TV, Radio, and Multimedia awards, as well as a Clarion for her TV coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, Google Glass & Other Wearables, and the 9/11 Anniversary.