Defense cuts' impact on Robins not yet known

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued orders earlier this month to pare money paid for the growing numbers of defense support contractors — people who do military work and don’t wear a uniform — but its impact to Robins Air Force Base may not be known until the end of the year.

Defining what “support contractor” means throughout the Department of Defense will ultimately determine how many budget cuts would affect the military in Middle Georgia, said Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., who serves on the House Armed Services Committee and whose district includes Robins.

“Is it the food service workers, security personnel and other non-military jobs in Afghanistan and Iraq, today, supporting the wars? Or is it the (workers) actually turning wrenches, repairing aircraft at Robins Air Force Base,” Marshall said. “We just haven’t seen the details, and I’m not sure there is an impact to Robins at this point.”

Gates directed his office to find ways to slash at least 10 percent of Pentagon money that pays for service support contractors over the next three budget years. Gates also wants to freeze jobs within his own office until fiscal year 2013.

The team assembled to define those areas has until December to make their final recommendations, although Gates has said he would like to see the 5,000-member, Virginia-based Joint Forces Command shuttered for good.

The Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, the base’s largest unit, has 12,244 civilian employees, 3,339 contract workers and 1,864 military members. Robins has about 4,000 more people who work in various units across the base, including the U.S. Air Force Reserve headquarters and the Georgia Air National Guard 116th Air Control Wing.

The proposed cuts have been mulled for months, Gates said. Last week, an official memo outlined several areas in which he wants the Pentagon to reduce commitments, including cutting back the number of reports to Congress and slashing money paid to intelligence contractors.

Mary Therese Tebbe, executive director of the base booster organization 21st Century Partnership, said the Robins community is accustomed to the back and forth of military planning.

“It is a climate of ‘do more with less,’ ’’ Tebbe said. “There is going to be belt tightening, and there is no way around that. That doesn’t mean (Robins) will lose work here, but it could mean shifting priorities and responsibility. This community is pretty adept at that.”

Marshall said the cuts would be well researched and not without thought.

“Gates is a determined, capable secretary of defense, and I don’t think these will just be where something is cut off the top,” Marshall said. “These will be reviewed, and of course Congress will weigh in on the final decisions. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

To contact writer Shelby G. Spires, call 744-4494