As America nears the deadline for avoiding sequestration, we’ve seen several high-level assessments of the damage the cuts will inflict on the military.
Whether these calculations have come from political appointees or service chiefs, the verdicts are the same: The cuts will significantly hamper our ability to defend the United States.
We’d like to offer a more tactical, unit-level take on what these cuts mean to men and women in uniform. Between us, we’ve commanded two of the four combat camera squadrons in the Air Force.
Our mission is to deploy to combat zones or humanitarian relief contingencies and document the operation through still and video imagery. This imagery aids operational commanders’ decision making and informs the public as well as senior leaders. Often, combat camera forces are among the first “boots on ground” in the area of operation.
Because our airmen must be trained to operate in austere, dangerous conditions, they receive advanced weapons and tactics training in addition to the standard combat skills training every airman receives prior to a deployment. This training is absolutely critical.
Recently headquarters asked if the 2nd Combat Camera Squadron could provide airmen to participate in a training exercise. This is an exercise we have participated in annually in the past, and it has proven to be superb training.
Only this year there was a caveat due to the impending budget crisis — we would be responsible for funding the travel and per diem if we wanted to participate.
The first thought was to suck up the cost in the name of training. After all, that’s a commander’s job — to ensure our airmen have the skills they need to deploy, accomplish the mission and return home safely.
But upon a closer look at the dwindling squadron budget, it became apparent that this could jeopardize the ability to pay for the advanced weapons and tactics training. So in this case, no airmen were able to attend this valuable exercise.
The ability to afford weapons and tactics training is in question if we are sequestered — even if we opt out of other exercises. There is a very real possibility this year that our airmen will not be trained up to the standards that the DoD and Air Force have set for them.
But this isn’t the part of the story that keeps us up at night.
If a conflict, crisis or humanitarian operation occurs anywhere in the world and combat camera forces are called upon, we’re not able to opt out. We will answer the call, and airmen will go into a combat zone without the vital level of training they need, like close quarters battle skills, hand-to-hand combat or advanced marksmanship.
They will not be ready.
As a commander, the injury or death of an airman is something that can and will haunt you for the rest of your life with the question: Could I have done more to prevent this?
Sequestration does more than put programs at risk — it puts lives at risk. National leaders must do all they can to avoid this from happening.
Lt. Col. Allen Herritage
Commander, 2nd Combat
Hill Air Force Base
Lt. Col. Aaron Burgstein
Air Force Fellow
and former Commander,
1st.Combat Camera Squadron
Charleston Air Force Base