Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel talks July 15 with Col. Patrick Hymes, commander of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, as Hymes shows him some readiness gear at Fort Bragg, N.C. (Andrew Craft / The Fayetteville Observer via AP)
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Federal budget cuts are damaging the military’s current and future readiness, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told a town hall-style gathering Monday at Fort Bragg.
Speaking to more than 100 soldiers and civilian workers, Hagel told the audience that the cuts are more dramatic than in past years.
“If these dramatic reductions continue on the course they’re on through current budget cap sequestration, this is forcing us to take deeper, steeper and more abrupt reductions than we’ve ever had to do,” Hagel said.
“We are doing damage to our readiness — future readiness. We’re doing damage to our readiness now,” he said. “But I have to preserve as much as I can preserve with the resources I have, along with the leadership, the management, and the wise counsel of our leaders.”
Hagel is touring military installations along the East Coast. He is scheduled to go to a naval air station in Jacksonville Fla., an Air Force base in Charleston, S.C., and to visit Marines at Camp Lejeune during the next two days
Hagel said the Defense Department hopes to avoid another year of furloughs but that if the cuts stay in effect, the department will have to consider further action to reduce personnel costs, including involuntary reductions in force.
About 8,400 civilian employees at Fort Bragg are being furloughed for up to 11 days now through Sept. 30. The unpaid days off equal a 20 percent pay cut over the next three months. Local officials are worried about the potential impact on the area’s economy.
“I suspect this is the most difficult time of your service. I know that. I accept that. I understand that. Your leaders understand that,” Hagel said. “But we have no choice but to get through it, and we will get through it. This institution and its people, the people are the fabric of any institution, are just too good, and our commitment is too strong.”
Sgt. Patrick Bessasparis and his wife, Amber, have been at Fort Bragg for two years. They have been living off post and are on a waiting list to move to housing on post.
“Everybody’s going to feel it, but everybody’s got to pitch in,” Sgt. Bessasparis said. His wife said the couple is keeping a close eye on the family’s money.
“We’re always working on a budget, we coupon,” she said, “so when things start getting tough, we’re prepared if we have to be.”