Air National Guard members with the 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton have begun taking federally mandated unpaid furloughs that officials say will result in a 20-percent cut in pay and a drop in productivity—though they also insist the reductions will not interfere with the unit’s critical missions.
The furloughs, which began this week, are the result of a series of across-the-board cuts, known as sequestration, that took effect in March after Congress failed to pass a plan to reduce the nation’s deficit. At the 106th Rescue Wing at Gabreski Airport, the 220 affected federal technicians, who are civilian employees of the National Guard but also, aside from a small number, serve in the National Guard as a condition of their employment, are required to take one day off a week for about 11 weeks, for a total of 11 days.
More than 1,750 National Guard technicians in New York State and 57,500 nationwide will be affected by the cuts, according to the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs. The U.S. Department of Defense is expected to save about $4.5 million as a result of the furloughs, which are scheduled to continue through September.
The Air National Guard responds to emergencies or natural disasters at the direction of Governor Andrew Cuomo. The 106th Rescue Wing deploys guardsmen worldwide to carry out personnel recovery and search-and-rescue missions, as well as combat support, and civil search-and-rescue missions.
Eric Durr, the director of public affairs for the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, said this week that the technicians perform “critical” administrative and maintenance duties. He said the furloughs could cause the delay of routine maintenance, such as repairs to helicopters and vehicles.
“If the governor calls for the National Guard, the National Guard will be there,” Mr. Durr said. “We will meet our critical mission requirements, but there will be some maintenance backlogs.”
Those backlogs could mean fewer helicopters or vehicles available at any one time, he added.
Korey Larson, the executive officer of the 106th Rescue Wing, stressed Tuesday that the 106th Rescue Wing will maintain its full mission capability.
“The furloughs affect just the day-to-day operation of the wing,” he said. “However, we will still be available to the citizens of Long Island to respond in the event of, say, a natural disaster.”
Mr. Durr explained that the technicians perform their duties in uniform and are virtually indistinguishable from the active guard reserve airman, who are exempt from the furloughs. Like the technicians at the 106th Rescue Wing, most of the federal civilian technicians nationwide are “dual status,” meaning they are also members of the National Guard.
In March, the National Guard Association of the United States sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel requesting that the technicians be exempt from the furloughs so that they can continue to perform their duties that “maintain the high level of readiness required for critical domestic and overseas missions.”
Mr. Durr also noted that the pay cuts will hurt the employees and their families.
“Nobody enjoys getting 20 percent less money, and so this will obviously make life a little harder for our dual status federal technicians.”
U.S. Representative Tim Bishop of Southampton could not be immediately reached for comment.
In a previous interview, Colonel Tom Owens, the commander of the 106th Rescue Wing, said that slightly more than 1,000 personnel are currently employed at the base, and a third of them are full-time officers.