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Budget cuts may hurt Georgia military

Major General believes National Guard could be impacted

POSTED: October 27, 2012 11:59 p.m.

Just how proposed military budget cuts might affect Georgia isn’t clear, but just the talk of them is enough for Jim Butterworth, the state’s adjutant general, to bristle.

“If you consider the fact the Georgia National Guard is the eighth largest National Guard organization (in the U.S.), we would take a considerable cut,” Maj. Gen. Jim Butterworth said.

“And the impact would be on our operations, meaning actual movement of men and equipment and maintenance on that equipment. And the other impact is personnel — that would be another area that we would have to address.”

Butterworth, a Habersham County native, reports to Gov. Nathan Deal and oversees nearly 14,000 personnel of the Georgia Department of Defense, including the Georgia Army National Guard, the Georgia Air National Guard and Georgia State Defense Force.

“That number would have to decrease as a reaction to sequestration,” he said.

Automatic, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration were part of a budget compromise in August 2011 that averted a default on the federal debt.

Under the compromise, which had bipartisan support, Congress would have to come up with $1.2 trillion in alternative budget cuts by the end of this year. If it were to fail, automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion over nine years would begin on Jan. 2, with half coming from defense.

“We’ve already begun a process of trying to adapt to a decreasing fiscal environment,” Butterworth said. “Right now, we have a little over 60 armories and when we get finished with the current process we have in place, we will have about 54.

“If sequestration becomes a reality, that number may have to be further reviewed. Perhaps, we’ll have to close more armories than we’ve already been planning.”

The National Guard maintains a unit, Company C, 1st Battalion, 121st infantry regiment, with an armory at 153 Alta Vista Road, Gainesville.

The U.S. Department of Defense “has already begun the process of about $450 billion in cutbacks over the next 10 years,” Butterworth said. “That’s in the works. When and if sequestration becomes a reality, we then face $500 billion in additional cuts.

“That’s a very, very difficult situation for the military — or any organization for that matter — to have to begin the planning stages for,” he said. “In saying that ... we’re for fiscal responsibility and we understand the ramifications of spending more than we have.

“If you make the argument that the pendulum has swung too far to the left, in regards to spending, (sequestration cuts) would definitely be a swing too far to the right. I think the argument would be for something a little more reasonable that we can work from.”

The other military presence in Gainesville is the U.S. Army Reserve, which operates 802nd Ordnance Co., based off Shallowford Road. Maj. Matthew W. Lawrence, spokesman for the U.S. Army Reserve Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., addressed the potential sequestration in an email:

“It is difficult to determine the impact of budget cuts at this time. Overall from the Army Reserve’s perspective, however, we believe that in contrast with the active component, the Army Reserve has greater potential for efficiency, effectiveness and economy.”

Both the National Guard’s Company C, or Charlie Company, and the 802nd were deployed to the war in Afghanistan.

The Army also operates Camp Merrill, home of the 5th Ranger Training Battalion and the Mountain Phase of Fort Benning’s Ranger School. The base is just outside Dahlonega.

“It’s too soon to tell if Camp Merrill will be affected by defense spending cuts stemming from sequestration,” said Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, defense press officer at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., also by email.

Ron Martz, who was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in two categories in 2004 for his coverage of the war in Iraq and now teaches journalism at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, said he doesn’t believe sequestration will happen.

“Congress never acts unless its pants are on fire. Sometime after the (Nov. 6) election, maybe before Christmas, they’re going to get together and raise the spending cap,” he said.

Sequestration “would just be too detrimental for the military and to defense businesses,” said Martz, a U.S. Marine veteran. “Having said that, I think that cuts are inevitable. Historically, you usually see cuts of some kind after a long and protracted war.”

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.


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