Furloughs Impacting California Guard’s Ability to Respond to State Crises

MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. -- Federal furloughs of Department of Defense civilian employees that began July 8 have already adversely impacted the California National Guard's ability to prepare for state and domestic crises.

One of five HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters belonging to the 129th Rescue Wing has been receiving maintenance at a depot facility on a limited work schedule due to manpower shortages caused by federal furloughs. The furlough has delayed the expected delivery date by 60 days.

Meanwhile, wildfires threaten homes and woodlands across California, and the Secretary of Defense recently stated that the furloughs may extend into the next fiscal year when hurricane season frequently brings disaster to the East and Gulf coasts.

The 129th RQW leadership expressed concern that the full impact of furloughs will not be realized until a significant crisis occurs, when the unit's rescue helicopters will be needed to save lives or property in California.

"These aircraft are normally the first to respond to large-scale emergencies, and are used to perform complex lifesaving rescues and firefighting operations that are beyond the ability of others to perform," said Col. Steven J. Butow, 129th RQW Commander. "Keeping these aircraft operational is critical to our ability to respond to life-threatening disasters in the Bay Area and across the state and nation."

The 129th RQW has saved more than 250 lives during hurricane disasters such as Katrina and Ike. Most recently, the unit responded within 24 hours of notification to Hurricane Sandy last year, after dropping more than 250,000 gallons of water on wildfires across California. Since its inception in 1977, the 129th RQW has saved more than 1,003 lives, with more than 600 of those rescues performed state side.

The 129th RQW is authorized six rescue helicopters by the DOD. However, one was lost during combat operations in Afghanistan in 2009. Congress funded operational loss replacement aircraft and the 129th RQW is due to receive one but the combination of sequestration and other program cuts may delay this action indefinitely.