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300-plus Guardsmen face pay cuts

Springfield base still waiting on official furlough notices.

More than 300 full-time Ohio Air National Guard workers in Springfield could face 14 days of unpaid leave this year as part of federal government budget cuts.

Lobbyists for the National Guard Association of the United States are scrambling to get an executive order exempting the Guard’s 57,795 military technicians nationwide — more than half of the Guard’s full-time force — from impending furloughs. Otherwise, they’re set to be the only federal employees wearing military uniforms forced to take a pay cut.

All other uniformed military personnel are exempt from the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.

At the Springfield Air National Guard Base, which is among Clark County’s top 10 largest employers, 336 full-time guardsmen could be furloughed before Sept. 30.

Within the 178th Fighter Wing, the base’s largest unit, 307 of 365 full-time employees are military technicians and subject to the unpaid time off, according to Col. Gregory Schnulo, wing commander. The unaffected full-time employees are considered active-duty, he said.

Additionally, 29 technicians could be furloughed between the base’s two communications units, the 251st Cyber Engineering Installation Group and the 269th Combat Communications Squadron, said Col. Wade Rupper, acting commander of the 251st.

Military technicians perform training, maintenance and administrative duties.

With communications personnel deployed overseas continuously, Rupper said Thursday they need all the work time they can get.

“We’re going to have to make some very tough decisions,” he said.

The 178th has received no official notification of furloughs, Schnulo said, and news of this week’s decision by the Pentagon to reduce the number of mandatory furlough days for civilian employees from 22 to 14 likely isn’t helping an already confusing situation.

The Defense Department has delayed sending out furlough notices until April 5.

“It’s just confusion,” Schnulo said. “People know they’re going to take a pay cut. We’re getting information through the news media that’s confusing to a lot of people.”

News of fewer furlough days is, however, welcome news.

“That’s great,” Schnulo said. “That’s eight days of pay they’re not losing.”

While unrelated to sequestration, the 178th was also recently hit with confirmation that 47 full-time intelligence and reconnaissance positions will be eliminated by fall.

Adding to the confusion, the Washington Post this week reported that Guard officials in several states had already issued furlough notices — but those states were rescinding them so the Pentagon could determine the impact of a short-term spending bill.

“People are just hoping it gets worked out before it actually gets implemented,” said Senior Master Sgt. Joseph Stahl, public affairs superintendent for the 178th.

A Springfield resident with a wife and two school-age children, Stahl is at risk for furloughs as a military technician. The furlough would amount to one unpaid day a week for 14 weeks, he said.

If that happens, he said his wife, Jennifer, will probably have to take on more hours at her job as a physical therapist.

“There’s hope it actually isn’t going to happen,” Stahl said.

Among those also hoping it won’t happen is Bill Fischer, who runs Rudy’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que on South Limestone Street.

The Air National Guard Base has an annual impact of $99.4 million in the local economy. On average, Fischer said he serves at least 100 guardsmen each week at his locally owned eatery, which is among the restaurants closest to the base.

He fears that eating out will be among the first luxuries cut by furloughed base personnel.

“I know that would be the first thing I’d cut out,” Fischer said. “You brown-bag it a lot more.”

If the furloughs happen, Fischer quickly estimated he’d lose about $600 in sales weekly.

It’s not a life-threatening amount, he said, but “everything’s significant in this economy.”

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