Changes Coming To Fort Riley In Wake Of Sequestration

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FORT RILEY, Kan. (WIBW) -- Fort Riley's senior commander says the installation is already feeling the impact of budget constraints. He says the leadership on post is trying to work through the adjustments in order to keep their operations working efficiently and to make sure soldiers and their families have what they need.

Brigadier General Don MacWillie held a meeting with members of the media Friday about sequestration and how is impacting Fort Riley.

"This is not just a national issue. It’s regional issue and it’s clearly a Fort Riley issue... The new fiscal environment has and will continue to translate into budget adjustments and that’s clearly going to affect our training, our workforce and our future contracts," he said.

MacWillie says the 1st Infantry Division has spent the past year gearing up for a new financial environment when it became clear that Army budgets would be changing. The planning, he said, has put Fort Riley in a better position to deal with sequestration because officials have identified the installation's resources and requirements.

Up to 2,700 government service employees on the installation could face 22 furlough days between April and September of this year- a 20% cut in pay during that time period.

Due to automatic federal budget cuts, workers could lose two paid days out of every 10 work days over the course of five months.

"It’s a decision by the Secretary of the Army and no decision has been made... It is designed to last up to 176 work hours. It could start as early as April and it could last until the end of the fiscal year," General MacWillie said.

Besides possible furloughs, other impacts to the civilian workforce could include: a limited civilian hiring freeze and reduction of support contracts. MacWillie says 49 temporary and term employees have been or will released as well.

If furloughs do take effect, officials say emergency services at the hospital won’t be affected. Twenty-four hour staffing will continue and remain uninterrupted with ambulance services, emergency room, operating room, in-patient services and OBGYN.

Colonel Barry Pockrandt, who oversees Fort Riley's Irwin Army Community Hospital, explained: "Seventy percent of my workforce is civilian so potentially one day a week I’m going to have a significant impact. What we’re going to do is potentially collapse down operations in one of our larger out-patient clinics and shift the remaining contract and active duty staff over to another clinic and channel the out-patient services there. We’re trying to keep it simple so patients know and can anticipate when these things are going to occur."

Construction on the new hospital on post remains on track and protected from budget cuts, he said.

Fort Riley Garrison Commander William Clark says the fire and police departments as well as child care centers would see staggered furlough days to maintain services.

"We will not see those all furloughed on one day if that is to happen. If we go to a furlough concept as directed by the Secretary of the Army, what we would expect to see here on the garrison side is roughly 75% of our employees on a given day but the other 25% would be spread throughout the week to maintain those life, health and safety services that we provide," Colonel Clark said.

The commissary would also be impacted by potential furloughs and could be closed one day a week during the April-September time frame but Clark says officials are trying to offset the grocery store's closure so that it could remain open on days when more people would be furloughed and have off from work.

MacWillie anticipates that if a furlough decision is made, it will be made by the end of March.

Employees will be given a 30-day notice of furloughs.

Fort Riley is also making adjustments when it comes to soldiers' training.

For units without a deployment on the horizon, MacWillie said Fort Riley will be "slowing down" ground and air training and cutting back on live fire exercises in the field. More training will be done on state-of-the-art virtual simulators at the Mission Training Complex that recreate realistic battlefield scenarios and allow for more repetitions of exercises so they can try different techniques, procedures and tactics.

"Our new simulators actually have recoil in them now. The weapons that they hold have the same recoil, the same sound, great visual effects like 4D," MacWillie explained.

As a result of fiscal challenges, there will be less discretionary funding but the senior leaders stressed that the readiness of soldiers to deploy and support of military families will not be compromised. Soldiers will not see any pay cuts.

"With what we know and the cuts we’ve been directed to take, there will be absolutely no soldiers that go into harms way without the proper equipment and training. Our family programs will remain. We will continue to build resiliency," MacWillie told reporters.