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Fort Campbell cuts: 'They protected us ... why should they lose out?'

10:03 PM, Mar 8, 2013   |    comments
Col. 'Buck' Dellinger says the cuts will delay critical maintenance projects at Fort Campbell. 'We are going to be strained and challenged to make it through the next five months.' / Philip Grey / Gannett Tennessee
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By Adam Tamburin / The Tennessean

Steep budget cuts associated with the sequester are poised to affect hundreds of thousands who depend on services at Fort Campbell, from veterans to the soldiers' children who go to school there.

Almost all civilian workers on post, including teachers, face the possibility of up to 22 days of furloughs, which are needed to offset at least $55 million in budget cuts scheduled to hit the home of the 101st Airborne Division, Col. David L. "Buck" Dellinger said Thursday.

"We're still in the planning stage and hoping we do not have to implement these plans," Dellinger said.

Furloughs will begin to take effect in April unless Congress acts to undo sequestration beforehand.

If furloughs for teachers and school staff become a reality, officials said, Fort Campbell schools could close on Fridays while they go without pay. Excess snow days would be used to offset the impact, according to spokesman Robert Jenkins.

President Barack Obama referenced the possibility of truncated school schedules during a news conference Friday at the White House.

Obama criticized Congress for failing to act, citing the concerns of parents deployed to Afghanistan, wondering if their children will lose valuable classroom time.

More than 5,000 soldiers from Fort Campbell are in Afghanistan, and two other brigades are preparing to deploy later this year.

Jenkins maintained that students' educations would not be disrupted by the furloughs, adding that those approaching graduation and advancement would remain on track.

Furloughs are only one element of the defense cuts triggered by the sequester.

Already, Fort Campbell has instituted a hiring freeze. Some temporary employees have been terminated, and some term workers' contracts have expired without replacements.

More problems are going to start surfacing later in the year, Dellinger said, when maintenance on vehicles and facilities would slow to a crawl.

"We know that in the third and fourth quarter of this fiscal year, maintenance is going to be strained," he said. "That is being curtailed very close to zero."

The budget for maintenance on facilities was cut from $62 million to $28 million, requiring officials to defer even critical maintenance projects, Dellinger said.

Soldier pay and allowances will be protected.

Veterans will be affected. A Department of Labor program that helps veterans transition into the workforce would have to reduce operations, according to a White House brief.

About a dozen people gathered at a Nashville demonstration protesting the cuts Friday, holding signs that were soggy with sleet.

Jackie Shrago worried that fewer transitional services would mean a steeper climb for her nephew, who served in Iraq.

"They're gonna have a harder time making it," Shrago said of her nephew and his family.

"The veterans did their job. They protected us, they made our country safer," she said. "Why should they lose out?"

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