The U.S. Air Force achieves and sustains its status as the world's best air force by embracing a vision that instills a common foundation committed to superior performance. Two pillars of this foundation are “service above self” and “excellence in all we do.” This inspiring premise has served our nation well for many years. Airmen at Tinker Air Force Base and the other Air Force sites within Oklahoma conduct their day-to-day efforts under this vision of committed excellence and service to country.
This foundation will be tested in the months ahead. The impact of sequestration budget cuts within Department of Defense and the Air Force are now in full force with the beginning of furloughs for practically all Air Force civilian members. This is acutely affecting Tinker, where thousands of Air Force civilians perform vital aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul, and the associated planning and programming functions to keep weapon systems mission ready and combat deployed.
While furloughs began this July, many mandated budget cutting actions have already been taking place. Crucial training and exercises are cancelled or postponed. Flying hours are cut. Major maintenance overhauls are delayed. All of these actions are required by the sequestration laws approved by Congress as an unexpected extreme alternative to the prescribed and normal governmental budgeting process.
The Air Force infrastructure also has experienced the impact of sequestration cuts. To meet spending guidelines, some building maintenance and improvements have been cancelled or postponed if not safety-related. Energy conservation efforts have turned off or dimmed lights in many areas. Mowing of the grounds within the base areas has been significantly cut back where not impacting flight operations. The combination of these cuts produce weedy grounds around dimly lit buildings still waiting for maintenance; a condition usually found among Third World air forces.
Now with furloughs underway, the human impact is unmistakable. The thousands of civilian employees at Tinker are furloughed on Friday without pay through September. This causes a 20 percent pay cut for the most irreplaceable component in Tinker's reach for service above self and excellence in all we do. This financial hardship must be dealt with; for many, it's difficult if not impossible.
The final result of these cuts may take many months or years to be assessed. The one fear remains that this significantly changes the prospects for Tinker to recruit and retain the best aerospace workers in the state and nation. What once was the most desirable and stable job in the region now must overcome this period of uncertainty and instability.
This situation is affecting thousands of civilian workers who didn't cause the problem. Yet our national security depends on these workers and their counterparts across the nation to still pursue service above self and excellence in all they do. This nation is asking a lot of them. Elected officials in Washington, D.C., have created this environment. It's up to them to resolve it.
Tarpley is a retired Air Force colonel and a former inspector general for Air Combat Command at Tinker AFB. He is a defense marketing consultant and vice president of the Air Force Association, Gerrity Chapter.