BARSTOW • Brig. Gen. Theodore Martin took command at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin not two weeks ago, his second assignment at the remote U.S. Army base north of Barstow.
It's already started off as a challenge.
Automatic cuts to the federal budget that were once deemed universally unappealing to both Democrats and Republicans took effect Friday, with an automatic $85 billion reduction, according to the White House. Roughly 50 percent of those spending cuts go to defense, and 50 percent to domestic, civilian employees at local military bases.
With those kinds of cuts, Martin is already looking at the possibility of unpaid furloughs for civilian employees at the base.
"It's great being back at the National Training Center," Martin said. "I'm just sorry that the first major event that we have to tackle will be the possible implementation of a furlough."
Fallout from the cuts could have a major ripple from Barstow to the Victor Valley, which are both deeply reliant on military spending to support their economies. Fort Irwin and the Marine Corps Logistics Base in nearby Yermo are the top two employers in Barstow, their workers living across the region.
As for now, no one can say how hard the cuts will hit.
Fort Irwin has scheduled two town hall meetings to discuss the sequestration cuts and their possible impact on the community. One will be at 1 p.m. Monday at Sandy Basin and another at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the post theater.
Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow spokesman Rob Jackson said last week that he did not have any additional information on how sequestration would affect the facility.
Impact on SCLA
A planned reduction of $600 million in FAA spending for the remainder of this year could impact Victorville's Southern California Logistics Airport, according to a recent U.S. Department of Transportation letter. The cuts could end the government's $750,000 contract with Serco Management Services, an independent contractor that operates the tower, as soon as April 1.
Losing the tower would jeopardize the airport's future, since an operational tower is required to support U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard training.
"If SCLA couldn't sustain the impact, it would first be required to consider reducing its services, which unfortunately could compromise the safety and security of the airfield," said Keith C. Metzler, assistant city manager for Victorville and the executive director for Southern California Logistics Airport. "Absent a tower, the USAF and Air National Guard don't have a training environment, which means the military training gets reduced."
Metzler said he has already heard of troop rotations in and out of the airport getting canceled. Those flights — nearly 50,000 military troops rotate through the airport to and from Fort Irwin every year — affect revenues from the facility's "fuel flowage fee," a user tax on jet fuel to support the airport.
Any impact to the airport could also affect private companies that contract there, Metzler said, adding that Victorville's city staff will discuss contingency plans on the airport this week.
The Department of Transportation letter from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Michael Huerta threatens to furlough most of its 47,000 employees for approximately one day per pay period, while closing more than 100 air traffic control facilities. These furloughs and facility shut-downs would begin in April.
"It's kind of like hitting a fly with a hammer," said Air Traffic Manager Wayne Taylor who has served at Southern California Logistics Airport for 10 years. "Instead of, say, downsizing and funding at 50 percent, they lopped it off altogether. They have to show cuts, and they're impacting a lot of people's lives just to play their game in Washington."
Count Brandon Riley as one of those lives affected.
A heavy mobile equipment repairman at the Marine Depot Maintenance Command Barstow, Riley said he has already prepared for possible furloughs and a resulting cut in pay. He'll get by, but he will also have to drop some of his hobbies and discretionary spending.
"We're looking at basically 20 percent of our check being gone for the next six months. It's definitely going to account for some budgeting and taking into account that I'm not going to be making as much," Riley said.
Markie Hood, of Barstow, a kindergarten teacher at Montara Elementary School, is married to a civilian worker at the Marine Depot Maintenance Command Barstow. She said many of their friends at the base only have one breadwinner in their households and will definitely be hurt by the cuts.
Even in a two-earner household such as theirs, losing $800 a month means a house or car payment, she said.
"Our house payment is $800 and our car payment is $600, so that's like adding another bill," Hood said.