Sunday, June 17, 2018
Military News

Proposed defense cuts do not appear to put MacDill at risk

TAMPA — With U.S. Special Operations Command and Central Command firmly in place, MacDill Air Force Base appears to be spared major cuts in a proposed five-year budget unveiled Monday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

"I don't think they're going to be affected, but that has yet to be seen," said U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Spring Hill, who is on the House Armed Services Committee.

Still, when it comes to a base with an annual economic impact estimated at $5 billion, Tampa Bay area leaders have no plans to relax.

"As our community saw in '91, we believed we were safe and the next thing we knew we were on that (base closure) list," said Bob Rohrlack, president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, which recently added staff to track military issues. "We're determined not to let that happen again."

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said in a statement that, "fortunately, MacDill AFB is not under consideration for realignment or change due to the important missions" based there. She was pleased that Hagel's budget invests in special operations and that Central Command would still play a "pivotal role" due to instability in the Middle East.

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, MacDill has seen more than $1 billion in new construction. Officials break ground Thursday on a 90,000-square-foot home for the Joint Special Operations University, an educational hub for U.S., international and interagency personnel.

Castor said she plans to work with Tampa Bay's congressional delegation "to ensure the strategic MacDill missions remain on track and we consider new assignments."

If anything, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said, the bay area could benefit from Hagel's plan to maintain funds for cyber warfare. The region has a lot of private defense contractors with that expertise, and the University of South Florida is ramping up a curriculum in cyber security.

Hagel's proposal does call for scaling back subsidies to military commissaries and increasing health insurance deductibles and certain co-payments for some military retirees and some relatives of active personnel.

It also would slow down the growth of housing allowances, which are based on military pay grades, dependents and rents charged around the base where personnel are stationed. Not clear is whether that growth would keep pace with rising bay area real estate values.

"That would be the critical factor in what kind of effect it had," said Vicki Wagner, a broker-saleswoman and part owner at Keller Williams Realty Tampa Properties.

About 20 percent of Wagner's business comes from military families looking for homes, often in Riverview, Valrico and FishHawk Ranch, but increasingly in northwestern Hillsborough. Most factor the housing allowance into the payments they take on.

At lunch spots near MacDill Monday, uniformed personnel generally said they had heard little about the proposed cuts and declined to discuss anything they knew. Recently, nearly 900 of MacDill's 3,800 military personnel received notices saying their positions with the 6th Air Mobility Wing could be vulnerable as the Air Force shrinks after the war in Afghanistan.

Off the base, a leader of TAMPA — the Tampa Area Marine Parents Association — said proposed cuts to benefits would hit "hard-working grunts and younger families" especially hard.

"They're not making any money as it is. How do you keep your head above water?" said Cyd Deathe, the group's executive director. "It's just so sad. We ask them to put their lives on the line, and we pay them and treat them like second-class citizens."

Nugent likewise said any cuts to benefits deserve a hard look.

"I'm not real happy when we start to try to balance our budget on the backs on the men and women who serve," he said.

Information from the New York Times and Washington Post was used in this report.

Comments
Chicago soldier killed in Korea finally being laid to rest

Chicago soldier killed in Korea finally being laid to rest

CHICAGO — Not long after her father went missing during the Korean War, Carol Elkin spotted then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower in downtown Chicago and did what any kid might do when coming face to face with the nation’s most famous soldier: She ...
Published: 06/17/18
Howard Altman: New Port Richey veteran out front in campaign for burn-pit benefits

Howard Altman: New Port Richey veteran out front in campaign for burn-pit benefits

Last week, the halls of Congress became the latest battleground in a campaign by tens of thousands of veterans seeking acknowledgment of the health problems they suffer from exposure to open-air refuse burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.Nav...
Published: 06/14/18
Airman with top-secret clearance, who disappeared in 1983, is discovered living in California

Airman with top-secret clearance, who disappeared in 1983, is discovered living in California

Before he mysteriously disappeared and landed on the Air Force Most Wanted list, Capt. William Howard Hughes Jr. phoned home to tell his mother and father that he was going to the Netherlands.It was July 17, 1983, and the Air Force was sending Hughes...
Published: 06/12/18

Marine Corps weighs wooing older members for new cyber force

SAN DIEGO ó The head of the Marine Corps says itís time the U.S. military branch known for its fierce, young warriors becomes a little more mature. The Marine Corps is considering offering bonuses and other perks to entice older, more experienced Mar...
Published: 06/08/18
Updated: 06/09/18
Military members stationed overseas fret as flying pets home gets harder

Military members stationed overseas fret as flying pets home gets harder

Missy Lee, a civilian who works for the U.S. Army, paid Delta Air Lines $5,000 to transport her two white shepherds as cargo on the same flight she took when moving to Japan in 2014.In the years since, the industry of shipping pets overseas has drast...
Published: 06/07/18
Howard Altman: Calls to veterans hotline jump after program expands statewide

Howard Altman: Calls to veterans hotline jump after program expands statewide

During the first three months of its expanded, statewide hotline for veterans, the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay estimates about 2,000 former service members called in seeking help because they were considering suicide.Thatís a powerful testament to the...
Published: 06/06/18
Updated: 06/13/18
How to spot neo-Nazis in the military? Brandon Russell case shows how hard it is

How to spot neo-Nazis in the military? Brandon Russell case shows how hard it is

When Brandon Russell joined the Florida Army National Guard in January 2016, the service noted the radiation-warning symbol tattooed on his right shoulder.No one saw it as suspicious. Seventeen months later, it figured into the slaying of two young m...
Published: 06/04/18
Howard Altman: New base commander at sultry MacDill helped run South Pole airlifts

Howard Altman: New base commander at sultry MacDill helped run South Pole airlifts

One of the most frustrating aspects of covering the military is how often change takes place.Just when you start to get to someone, boom, they move on.The latest case in point is Air Force Col. April Vogel, commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing at M...
Updated one month ago
From the archives: A story for Jake

From the archives: A story for Jake

Editorís note: This story was originally published on May 27, 2007. It is being republished in honor of Memorial Day.Oct. 22, 2006, approx. 7:30 p.m.,St. Lawrence Catholic Church, TampaShe makes her way down the aisle of a church, eyes locked on the ...
Updated one month ago
Sun City Center veteran finds honor in remembrance

Sun City Center veteran finds honor in remembrance

Editorís note: Times correspondent Bob Black, a resident of Sun City Center, shares his thoughts about the Honor Flight of West Central Florida he enjoyed in April. The organization strives to recognize U.S. Veterans for their sacrifice and service b...
Updated one month ago