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Furloughs start for civilian employees on Alaska military base, posts

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Posted: Sunday, July 7, 2013 11:44 pm | Updated: 7:21 am, Mon Jul 8, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Starting today and continuing through September, some 960 Fort Wainwright and 300 Eielson Air Force Base civilians will work one less day each week because of the national budget impasse.

Throughout the country, 85 percent of civilians employed by the Department of  Defense face furloughs today as part of military budget cuts triggered in March when Congress failed to meet its own deadline to find a solution to the national budget deficit.

The local numbers were provided by Fort Wainwright garrison spokeswoman Connie Storch, and George Bennett, legislative action coordinator with the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1834, the union that represents Department of Defense-employed civilians in the Interior.

Locally, there’s an exception for firefighters working wildfires but not for doctors, nurses, emergency dispatchers or some police, according to Bill Ward, president of AFGE Local 1834.

Like the union in general, Ward is critical of the implementation of budget sequestration. He said he contacted the Pentagon to request exceptions for emergency workers but was turned down.

He said the Pentagon’s decisions are adding to the pain of the furlough. “It’s not about cost savings. It’s about having this impact, kind of like the FAA did, so that the public will be outraged enough that they might stop it,” he said.

With help from Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s staff, Ward said, he was able to secure an exception for Army firefighters who are working area wildfires. He said among the hardest-hit groups of civilian employees will be the Fort Greely police department,  

That department, according to police officer and Fort Greely union steward Terry Denton, might have to leave the gate unattended when officers are away on calls during off-peak hours. After the planned departure of two officers in the next two weeks, the department will be made up of 12 officers and sergeants, four gate guards and one captain, he said.

Denton recently moved off post and bought a house in Delta Junction. Personally, he said, the loss in pay from the furlough may cause him to forgo buying a wood stove he had hoped to put in this summer.

In a letter to the military published in the military newspaper Alaska Post last month, U.S. Army Alaska commander Maj. Gen. Michael Garrett wrote training on ranges will be reduced because of the furloughs. Uniformed service members, who don’t face furloughs, will be able to help with civilian work in some cases, he said.

The furloughs will generally affect the efficiency of services on Alaska’s army posts, he said.

“Our federal employees process our promotions, fill our prescriptions and even patrol our roads. With furlough in effect, we should expect that the speed of some of these services will slow, lines will become longer and some of the conveniences we’ve grown accustomed to may go away,” he said.

Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.

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