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Popular Wright-Patt event canceled because of budget cuts

Freedom’s Call Tattoo, an outdoor festival that attracts tens of thousands to the grounds of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force every year, has been canceled this summer, due to defense budget cuts, according to Wright-Patterson officials.

“We simply cannot spend tax dollars on such events when sequestration cuts threaten to ground aircraft and furlough our civilian employees,” Col. Cassie B. Barlow, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing, said in a statement Thursday.

About 13,000 civilian employees at Wright-Patterson may be asked to take 22-day furloughs beginning in late April and Air Force flying hours have been cut.

Event organizers will stage a fireworks display the night of June 28, the day the Tattoo festival was scheduled and which has attracted up to 75,000 people in past years, said Wright-Patterson spokesman Daryl Mayer.

A dollar estimate for how much the cancellation of Tattoo will save was not immediately available Thursday, Mayer said. Corporate sponsorships cover part of the cost.

Tax dollars are not used for the fireworks display, he said. The funds are generated in part from base activities such as exchange and restaurant sales.

Tourism and business officials lamented scuttling the popular gathering of military flyovers, musical performers and band performances honoring service members and veterans. The officials said they have not tracked the economic impact of the one-day event that’s free to attend.

“It’s a big loss in terms of an event that brings large numbers of people to our community,” said Jacquelyn Powell, president and chief executive officer of the Dayton-Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“The cancellation of (Tattoo) because of sequestration is certainly disappointing, but not a surprise as the Air Force and the Pentagon have been forced to make significant reductions,” said Chris Kershner, vice president of public policy and economic development at the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. “We unfortunately are seeing that effect in the Dayton region.

Kathleen Young, executive director of the Greene County Convention and Visitors Bureau, was disappointed funding cuts led organizers to bow out this summer.

“I think it’s sad that it’s come to that,” Young said. “It just seems like there are other places that cuts could be made within our federal government.”

Mayer said the Air Force had been in talks with performers to appear on stage, but no deals had been signed.

The cancellation marks the second straight year the event has been called off.

A strong storm with driving rain and and high winds pummeled last year’s Tattoo just as it was about to get under way. The storm injured several people on the grounds.

The event could return next year, Mayer said.

“We expect that we’ll have a Tattoo again but we don’t know that for sure,” he said.

This is the second major area public event to feel the pinch of defense budget cuts in the Miami Valley.

The Air Force Thunderbirds will be grounded effective April 1 unless congressional action reverses sequestration’s effects. The popular jet team is scheduled to perform at the Dayton Air Show in June. The air show will continue without the team, organizers said.

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