Military community worries about major cuts

Defense secretary warns about automatic spending cuts

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Wednesday afternoon that the future holds an "ill-prepared and an under-equipped military," if Congress fails to prevent sweeping budget cuts from tacking effect in 2014.

Hagel laid out the worst case scenario to cut $50 billion from the 2014 budget and $500 billion over the next 10 years as a result of automatic spending cuts.

Channel 4 spoke with local members of the military community in Jacksonville, including retired Navy admiral Bob Natter, who just returned from Washington to talk about cuts to the military.

Natter agrees and said that the cuts would project weakness to the enemy and if Congress doesn't act fast, the U.S. could be giving an open invitation to trouble.

"This could be a disaster for us, if we screw it up," said Natter. "$50 billion is not chump change and it's going to have to have some real impact in our ability as a navy, and a military to do the kinds of things this nation has grown accustomed to over the last 50 years."

Hagel insisted Wednesday that he's not exaggerating the negative impact of the budget cuts to the military.

Hagel said the Pentagon may have to mothball up to three Navy Aircraft Carriers, reduce flying hours, cut back on training and deployments, park aircrafts and slash personnel.

For longtime civilian employees, like Sally Wilson who currently is a business analyst at NAS Jax, talk of deeper cuts is like adding salt in an open wound.

Friday will mark the fourth furlough day Wilson has served and she will get a paycheck that is 20 percent less.

"It's causing a lot of stress and anxiety for a lot of employees with the uncertainty of what the future might bring," said Wilson.

Wilson said if a compromise cannot be reached between Congress and the Obama administration, Jacksonville's local economy will take a drastic hit.

"When they take a 20 percent cut from our pockets, it's a 20 percent cut unilaterally across the community, because we are the community," said Wilson. "We shop here, we dine here, we live here, we spend our money here, and we support the local economy. We are the local economy."

Natter agrees, saying that the trickle-down effect could be devastating. Natter said he hopes a solution can be found before it is too late.

"It's important not only to the military and the defense department but indeed to the entire country," said Natter.