Fort Stewart leaders on Friday held a town-hall meeting at the Main Post Chapel to discuss the effects of upcoming furloughs.
The meeting was for soldiers, family members, Army civilians and military retirees. The chapel was about half-full with attendees.
Brig. Gen. John Hort, 3rd Infantry Division deputy commanding general-rear; Col. Kevin Gregory, U.S. Army Garrison commander for Stewart-Hunter; and Col. Ron Place, commander of Winn Army Community Hospital and Medical Department Activity Command for Stewart-Hunter, explained how mandatory furloughs scheduled to begin after July 8 will affect their activity and the community.
“I want you to know we have done just about everything within our power to mitigate the effects of (furloughs),” Hort said.
He noted the installation’s operating budget was cut by $18 billion, which he said amounts to a 30 percent reduction for Fort Stewart, Hunter Army Airfield and Kelly Hill (3rd ABCT at Fort Benning). Along with the 11 furlough days for Army civilians, he said the installation is under a hiring freeze and has had to release all temporary and term employees. There also will be reductions in some services, he said.
It was these reductions that Gregory and Place took the most time to explain.
Although most outdoor recreational facilities will remain open the same days and hours, some facilities, like the pass-and-permit office and civilian rifle and archery ranges, will be closed Tuesdays, Gregory said, and the library now will be closed Fridays.
Other services, like Army Community Services, the ID card section, education centers and vehicle registration and transportation offices, also will be closed Fridays. And although the Main Post Exchange will operate under normal hours, Gregory said the commissary will be closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Child-development centers and fitness centers will run at normal hours.
Department of Defense schools will observe one furlough day each week during September, according to Gregory.
Place emphasized that the quality of medical care and the type of services provided will remain the same, but waiting time for clinic appointments or visits to the emergency room will increase. That is because administrative personnel will be affected by the furloughs. With fewer people to man the phones and desks, patients can expect longer wait times.
Because phone services will have longer wait times, he advises soldiers and families to use TRICARE Online to schedule appointments.
The question-and-answer session began slowly, with many asking questions that already had been addressed during the leaders’ briefings. Some questions came directly from the floor, but many came from Facebook.
However, the questions soon turned to comments, with some venting their frustrations at the command and the government for having spent money on “extravagant” buildings, rather than reserve funding for employees. One man said he was disappointed with government leaders for “mismanaging” taxpayer money and getting the country in financial trouble.
His comments drew a response from another attendee, who said she was grateful for the efforts made by the command to mitigate the effects of the furloughs. She said she had her own opinion about who was to blame but would keep it to herself.
“From the Army leadership perspective, we have fought to steer this back (favorably) in the Army’s direction,” Hort said. “We reduced the number of furlough days from 22 to 11. If I had a magic wand, I’d tell the garrison commander, ‘Leave it open,’ but I don’t have one.”
Hort said no one could say what the future holds or if furloughs would continue next year. He asked that the community trust its leaders to make the right decisions.