Forward, Ready, Now: Stepping Up Despite Sequestration (Part II)

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Katrina Cheesman
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Our Airmen are innovative and mission-oriented...and despite the hard-hitting sequestration and budget cuts over the last two years, they still complete the mission through creative and effective ways. It isn't ideal, they said, but when America asks them to sacrifice and step up to the plate, that's just what they do.

This is part two of a multipart series that highlights how our Airmen have dealt with budget cut, including the good, the bad and the ugly.

Ready, Aim...Fire!

Once sequestration hit, the munitions flight of the 52nd Equipment Maintenance Squadron knew it was time to think outside the bunker.

The unit was already stretched thin--the flight was more than 80 Airmen short due to the 81st Fighter Squadron inactivation, but maintaining the same amount of munitions, and had 35 percent fewer vehicles to help do it.

Despite the challenges, the munitions flight has taken strides to overcome low manning and an even lower budget.

"Our Airmen have done great work finding how to use time and resources wisely instead of wasting both. It's about making people think what needs to be done, and what's really needed," said Chief Master Sgt. Terry Pritchert, munitions flight chief from Valley City, N.D., his arms crossed and a small smile on his face. "It's about finding solutions instead of making excuses."

Instead of driving from one shop to another to pick up an equipment piece here, and fix it over there, they consolidated locations of related shops. They also combined two separate sections--the conventional munitions section (the Airmen who make the bombs and bullets) and the flight line delivery section (the Airmen who deliver the bombs and bullets to the aircraft on the flight line)--to save vehicle fuel, manning and time. All in all, this clever consolidation freed up more time to do the job by reducing driving hours by 25 percent.

With everything in closer proximity, they didn't need as many composite tool kits, much like a car mechanic's tool kit. The hulking red containers had to be inspected every so often, taking up to eight hours to complete. Every time an Airman slides a drawer open, a 30-minute inspection follows. So they got rid of half their tool kits, and freed up space and time for their hardworking Airmen. This reduction roughly saves a whopping 2,600 hours a year on inspections, which can now be spent better supporting the mission.

"We are bred to adapt and overcome. We think every day how we can do things better," said Master Sgt. Jason Jones of Buffalo, N.Y., NCO in charge of munitions support equipment maintenance. "We do a lot with a little. And we are proud of our results."

Open Wide

Even with the innovative improvements around Spangdahlem, the budget cuts still bite everyone, even dentists.

Like all military dentists, Capt. Douglas Holmes of Mesa, Ariz., 52nd Dental Squadron general dentist, is armed to the teeth with a valid dental license from a state of his choosing. It differs for each state, but to maintain their dentistry license, dentists must complete up to 90 hours of continuing education courses while their license is valid.

Some dental specialists, such as the periodontist, who places dental implants in Airmen's mouths, have additional requirements to maintain their specialty license, like mandatory attendance at a specialty conference.

"I'm licensed in the state of Arizona and must renew my license every three years. Within that three-year period, I must complete 72 hours of dental CE courses if I want to renew my license," Holmes explains. "Of those 72 hours, 48 hours must be in some sort of hands-on courses. The rest can be accredited self-instruction hours, much like computer-based training."

Most of the classroom training is checked off at dental conferences held by various accredited organizations, including the Air Force. In the past, Air Force dentists were authorized one paid temporary duty per fiscal year for conference attendance, where they cram in 15 to 20 hours of hands-on training. The Air Force also offers courses at Lackland Air Force Base for our tooth protectors.

But when TDYs were cut 100 percent in 2012, this left many Airmen in a bind, especially dentists. They still needed required training to continue working on Airmen's pearly whites. The need was still there, but the money was not.

Permissive TDY was granted, but any attendance to these mandatory training back in the states was purely out-of-pocket. When some funding became available in FY 2013 for paid TDYs, dentists who were short on those training hours and need to renew licenses took priority.

So far at Spangdahlem, the budget cuts have not forced a dentist from practicing because he or she lacks a license. However, that's because they've been paying their own way to the states and into the conference, just to be able to continue supporting the mission on base, Holmes said.

"In my opinion, things are looking better from the doom-and-gloom scenario of 2012, but it is requiring us to be more creative in completing our continuing education requirements," Holmes said. "And not to mention more expensive for some individual dentists who are paying out-of-pocket."."

Like dentists sometimes say, biting the bullet is never good for your teeth, or your wallet.

What's in my water?

Dentists aren't the only ones clawing tooth and nail for funds to send their Airmen where they need to go; it's a common story heard across base. Like the lost slots or positions or opportunities at Airman Leadership School (which resulted in delays to sew on that nice fourth stripe), there just isn't money to send all Airmen to training. In some cases, it is an inconvenience. In others, it risks mission stoppage.

For Airmen in the 52nd Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight, budget cuts can be a matter of life and death.

The flight performs health risk assessments in various areas, such as hazardous material, environmental protection and radiation safety. In layman's terms, they make sure our drinking water and land are clean of anything dangerous.

The flight also visits and tests the safety of various areas annually at the 52nd FW's geographically separated units, such as Volkel Air Base, Netherlands.

But with the budget cuts, the flight may not be able to send trained Airmen to the GSUs. And if they do, there might not be enough money to keep them there until the job is done.

As a result, the flight could make decisions (yes, that's it's not) that affect the lives of Airmen based on potentially incomplete information, according to Master Sgt. Christopher Alden, Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight Chief and native of Harrison, Ohio.

With personnel cuts, it will be even more challenging to accomplish the mission, Alden said. The flight may lose more than a third of the force, which puts the workload on the backs of a few.

"Which hazards around the 52nd Fighter Wing will no longer need to be assessed?" Alden asks as he lays out the hazards of the future due to budget cuts. "My greatest fear is that the one hazard we are not able to assess because of manning or budget will cost the life of an Airman."