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Wright-Patt suspends AFIT classes, cuts training flights

Moves come one day after base sent 8,700 civil service workers home without pay.

The Air Force Institute of Technology has suspended classes for hundreds of students and the 445th Airlift Wing has furloughed hundreds of employees and sharply curtailed C-17 cargo flights because of the federal government shutdown, military commanders said Wednesday.

The partial shutdown has pushed some air reserve technician pilots out of the cockpit at the airlift wing and dozens of civilian instructors out of the classroom at AFIT, the Air Force’s post-graduate school, because of a lack of money, two military leaders said.

“Right now, as of today, there is no formal instruction going on,” said Col. Timothy Lawrence, AFIT commandant at Wright-Patterson. The school has more than 600 mostly military students at its campus at Wright-Patterson and about 200 military and civilian instructors who teach online courses to students off-site.

The air wing has slashed the number of C-17 flights to two or three a week in direct support of “down range” or wartime contingencies, said Col. Stephen D. Goeman, 445th Airlift Wing commander.

“In effect, 90 percent of the wing is shut down,” he said. “It’s not business as usual for us at all.”

The aviation unit, which flies the Globemaster III jets on missions around the world, normally flies 13 to 14 mission and training flights each week from Wright-Patterson. The wing has deferred a weekend drill this month for 1,900 reservists because of a lack of money to train, he said.

The standoff in Congress over the Affordable Care Act and the federal budget has had a ripple effect at Wright-Patterson. The base, Ohio’s largest single site employer with a workforce of about 29,000, has sent 8,700 civil service workers home without pay under an emergency furlough that started Tuesday. Another 3,200 “excepted” employees remain on the job, but with no promise of pay until Congress passes a funding resolution. Active-duty military personnel will continue to be paid and report for duty. The Air Force said Tuesday the military branch has suspended the military tuition assistance program for any college classes that began on or after Oct. 1 until further notice. The course reimburses active-duty airmen the cost of college tuition.

AFIT has kept 17 “excepted” civilian employees on the job out of 311 while the 445th has furloughed all but 25 of the 360 air reserve technicians and civilian staff members, the colonels said.

The post-graduate school’s top civilian leader, chancellor Todd Stewart, was among those placed on an emergency furlough, Lawrence said.

“The lack of civilian support is not ideal for now,” said Col. Nate Smith, a Ph.D. candidate in aeronautical engineering and student leader at AFIT. “We’re hopeful that the situation will not last long and we’ll be back in class soon.”

The school’s commandant said it made no sense to continue some classes with military instructors while most of the 89 civilian instructors and about 35 civilian students could not participate in courses.

“It would have just been a nightmare as far as trying to keep everything consistent so that’s why we made the call to just cancel the classes,” Lawrence said.

The educational institution will take a day-by-day approach to determine when to resume classes depending on how soon Congress appropriates the money, he said. In the interim, students will be “gainfully employed” working on graduate-level coursework, said Col. Angie Suplisson, also an AFIT doctoral student in aeronautical engineering.

“We’re all moving forward and just doing the best we can out of this situation,” Lawrence said.

The institution has a graduate school, a civil engineering school and a systems and logistics school. As of Wednesday, the graduate school had suspended 166 classes and the school of systems and logistics canceled two classes. The civil engineering school did not have courses offered this week, Lawrence said.

Col. Larkin Hastriter, associate dean of students, said student morale has remained high despite the classroom setback.

At the 445th, Goeman said morale was “pretty poor” following six unpaid furlough days this summer because of automatic budget cuts under sequestration.

“We’re very keen to watch our folks here,” he said. “We know that it’s creating a lot of hardship and worry amongst our workforce. That’s the additional negative impacts and depending on the duration of this it will affect our readiness and our training levels as we normally try to keep our folks current and qualified each month and if lose a month of training we will be behind.”

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