Defense budget cuts hit home in Oklahoma

Some Oklahoma sailors and airmen are out of work after layoffs in the Navy and Air Force that were the result of federal budget cuts.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND mrolland@opubco.com Published: September 10, 2012
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After 15 years in the Navy, Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph Phillips was fired in July from Tinker Air Force Base.

Phillips is one of 3,000 sailors throughout the nation terminated because of Department of Defense budget cuts.

Eight sailors lost their jobs in landlocked Oklahoma, but according to numbers from U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe's office, the Air Force lost about 1,100 airmen jobs in the state as part of the same budget cuts.

The transition has been difficult, Phillips said, but through support from the Navy and persistent appearances at job fairs, he landed two job offers this week.

With offers in hand and a last-minute decision by the Navy to grant some sailors early retirement, Phillips is excited about his first job outside the military since he worked at Wendy's in high school.

The experience has been less positive for Cyrus Gray, a 38-year-old petty officer 1st class, who spent the past 13 years in the Navy.

Both sailors were stationed at Tinker Air Force Base.

But Gray was about two years away from the early retirement deadline. He'd just purchased a house in Oklahoma City, and a month out of the job he's still attending job fairs.

“People want to know why you're out,” Gray said at Hiring Heroes, a job fair tailored to veterans and hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “They assume you must have done something wrong.”

Gray said it's been difficult to get calls back from employers even those who say they support veterans. He was going to another job fair Friday.

Drawdown numbers

According to Cmdr. Kathy Kesler, a spokeswoman for the chief of Naval Personnel, budget cuts were only a part of the driving force behind personnel reductions.

The Navy, for the first time, implemented a process to reduce the number of sailors in 31 overstaffed positions throughout the entire force. The Enlisted Retention Board began identifying sailors for termination after voluntary separations, retirements and other natural reductions in force failed.

“The number of personnel in the Navy is based on our force structure and is impacted by the Navy's budget,” Kesler wrote in an email. “However, the overarching reason the ERB was necessary was because in some career fields we have more sailors who want to stay in than we have jobs to fill.”

The positions the Navy cut were in areas that were more than 100 percent staffed, making promotion and movement within the organization difficult.

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This is going to be a lot different from working as a Navy electrician. But I've been told my people skills are pretty good, so I'm sure I can adjust to the new situation.”

Joseph Phillips

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