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Budget crisis idles Guard across U.S.

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  • DENNIS ODA / 2013
    A $101 million federal funding shortfall has postponed drills for tens of thousands of Army National Guard members. Hawaii Army National Guard Sgt. Manuel Munoz, left, and Sgt. Joshua Pasion rig a concrete block for a helicopter training mission.

Many of the nation’s citizen-soldiers, whose motto is "Always Ready, Always There," won’t be at regular training drills this weekend because of a federal funding shortfall.

Tens of thousands of Army National Guard members from Hawaii to New Hampshire have been idled because of a $101 million gap that has led to drills being postponed and travel being suspended, National Guard spokesman Capt. John Fesler said.

The shortfall is affecting just under 3,100 Army Guard soldiers in Hawaii without the slightly more than $1 million needed to pay them and for related expenses.

One scenario being looked at is rescheduling the drill weekend later this month and paying for it in the 2015 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, said Lt. Col. Chuck Anthony, a Hawaii National Guard spokesman.

Congress would have to approve the measure.

Another possibility is stretching out training weekends next fiscal year with longer days, but no extra pay, Anthony said.

"The bottom line is the kinds of activities that most of the units would have been doing this weekend, we’re confident that we could probably make those up at a later time," Anthony said.

Some units were expected to do weapons qualifications, for example, Anthony said.

Weapons qualification is good for a year "so we don’t think that anybody is actually going to fall off being weapons qualified," Anthony said. "The best-case scenario is that monies are reprogrammed (by Congress)."

Drills this weekend for most of the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 2,400 members are not affected.

Some are blaming the National Guard Bureau for poor financial planning that caught Army units short across the country at the end of the 2014 fiscal year.

Maj. Gen. Jim Butterworth, adjutant general of the Georgia National Guard, said he and other Guard leaders were unhappy with a lack of warning about the shortfall.

"There are definitely some unhappy adjutants general, and I’m one of them," he said.

Decisions to postpone or cancel drills were being made by state Guard leaders. Among other states that announced they put off training exercises are Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Montana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Utah.

Some, including Alaska, New Jersey, Oregon and Vermont, planned to go ahead as scheduled.

Among reasons for the shortfall are fewer Army Guard deployments overseas that are funded separately, and higher-than- expected attendance for training paid by the Guard.

The Ohio National Guard’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Deborah Ashenhurst, announced the postponement in a video last week. She said drills were being rescheduled to the end of the month in hopes that funding will be available by then.

"We’re very much aware that this action will be at best an inconvenience for all of you and will have varying degrees of economic impact across the force," Ashenhurst said in the video message. "We’re taking this action as a last resort."

Most of the nation’s 350,000 Army Guard members are part time, and many have full-time civilian jobs. They get paid for readiness training, earning hundreds of dollars for a weekend of drills depending on their rank. They also get credits that build toward retirement benefits.

"When you’re a young college student and working hard to make ends meet and trying to serve your country right now, it’s not good," said Robbie McGalliard, a 27-year-old artillery gunner in the Georgia National Guard. He would have been at Fort Stewart this weekend firing 105mm howitzer shells in his training, earning about $350.

"It takes away an opportunity for us to train and be mission-capable," he said.

The Guards function as reserve armed forces and can be activated by the president for U.S. military action or called out by their governors to help with natural disasters or civil unrest. Ohio National Guard members were called last month to help with water purification and delivery during a drinking water emergency in the Toledo area, while Missouri National Guard members went to Ferguson to help deal with violent protests after police shot a black teenager.

The Kentucky National Guard had firing practice planned that it will try to get done at the end of the month, said spokesman Lt. Col. Kirk Hilbrecht.

"All the ammo, all the food … you’re going to have to re-contract that for another time. Most contractors were able to be flexible," Hilbrecht said. "We were fortunate that we were able to relay things on. Other states may not have been so lucky."

Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporter William Cole contributed to this report.


By Russ Bynum and Dan Sewell, Associated Press

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