ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -

The Florida National Guard is one of several government agencies that has experienced a significant budget cut as a result of sequestration that took effect March 1. Officials said savings from furloughs will be a part of the strategy to meet budgetary end of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Sequestration requires all military services and defense agencies to furlough most Department of Defense civilian employees for an average of one day per week for up to 22 weeks beginning in late April. That equates to a 20-percent cut in pay for those affected.

Federal law requires at least a 30-day advance furlough notification. Furlough proposal notices are expected to be served in the next few days, officials said.

In the Florida National Guard, 993 uniformed military technicians and civilian defense employees are expected to be furloughed, resulting in losses of pay totaling nearly $5.7 million.

"Furloughs will impair our ability to do important work, which will harm national security: military technicians and civilians maintain our equipment, facilities and aircraft, provide medical support, handle contracting and financial management, and much more," a news release reads. "We are deeply concerned about the negative effects of furloughs on the morale and effectiveness of our valued uniformed military technicians and civilian workforce."

National Guard officials said furloughs, like other spending cuts, will adversely affect economies in at least 55 communities where its military technicians live and work. Other effects of sequestration to the Florida National Guard include:

  • $11 million shortfall in facilities maintenance projects (impacts armory readiness)
  • 20 percent sustained reduction in flying hours and in maintenance; The Continuing Resolution already cut March flying hours by 50 percent; potentially no flying by end of April (impacts Airspace Control Authority mission support and pilot proficiency)
  • $2.2 million shortfall for equipment readiness
  • 6,600 pieces of equipment from war not refurbished (impacts Florida National Guard state emergency response)
  • 10 percent equipment readiness degradation (impacts Florida National Guard state emergency response)
  • 5 percent backlog increase (impacts Florida National Guard state emergency response)
  • 77 percent loss in flying hours for Army Aviation through July 15; no funding after July 15. Directly impacts readiness (maintenance and crew proficiency), support to counterdrug operations and wildfire support.
  • 400 soldier medical exams cancelled (soldiers become non-deployable)
  • $1.2 million-plus cancelled in tuition assistance (impacts morale, recruiting and retention)
  • $407,000 loss in training resources (impacts range repairs and military courses)

Cuts will affect help in emergency management situations

A regularly scheduled monthly regional meeting for emergency operations officials that took place in Baker County on Wednesday shows some of the agencies are watching to see what happens when the financial hammer drops.

"It's a key factor in all our operations," said Ron Mills, acting president of Florida Emergency Preparedness Association. "They've been an integral part of the operation of all types of systems that affect the people of the state. Their backup, assistance is something we can't do without."

Mills said small counties especially rely on help from the outside.

As EOC director in Gilchrist County, he saw it with the storms in 2004.

"(The National) Guard came in, was able to provide vehicles and personnel to distribute food to areas we didn't have the ability, the type of vehicles to get to," Mills said.

A couple examples of those natural disasters include the Bugaboo Scrub Fire in 2007, then just a year later, Tropical Storm Fay, as it hit this part of the country, and specifically Baker County.

"It is a very comforting thing, especially us, being a small city, knowing those resources and assets are available," said Lt. Adam Faircloth, Baker County EOC director.

Faircloth says Baker County hasn't needed National Guard assistance since he took over the EOC in late 2006. But he's seen the Guard in action in a disaster.

"I was on deployment with the Sheriff's Office, and I did see firsthand the wonderful work they did way back then," Faircloth said.

He hopes his county never needs the assistance, but knows it could happen at any time with any storm.

Mills said he's not as worried because he believes the Guard and the Emergency Operations Centers have the same resolve to accomplish their mission.

"I don't believe I would want to swap places with that person, tell folks out in the field we can't help them because we don't have enough money," Mills said. "I believe they'll find a way."