MacDill cuts would be foolish, frightening
It's now abundantly clear that the Arab Spring unleashed more unrest than democracy in the Middle East, a region that continues to be of immense strategic importance to the United States. So how is the United States planning to respond? By gutting the command centers at MacDill Air Force Base that oversee military operations in that region. As reported this week by the Tribune's Howard Altman, the scattershot budget cutting process known as sequestration could lead to as many as 1,200 military and civilian jobs being eliminated at MacDill over the next five years. This prospect is not only foolish, it's frightening, and President Obama and Congress need to find a way to keep this vital military center functioning on all cylinders before the cuts begin to take effect in October 2014.The U.S. Central Command (Centcom) at MacDill employs about 5,000 military and civilian workers, and the U.S. Special Operations Command (Socom) employs about 2,500 military and civilian workers. Centcom already plans to cut 1,500 jobs by October next year through attrition when U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan. The sequestration cuts would come on top of those planned cuts. In sounding the alarm last week. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the congressionally mandated $500 billion in cuts to the Pentagon over the next 10 years could leave the U.S. military ill-prepared and vulnerable to more technologically advanced enemies. Critics may think the Pentagon is ripe for cuts, and they would not be entirely wrong. But the broad cuts that sequestration mandates fail to take into account the strategic need to keep MacDill whole. The unrest in the Middle East can hardly be expected to lessen in the coming years. Hagel made it clear he wasn't trying to stoke fears unnecessarily. "What we're trying to protect here is not crying wolf or not trying to overstate or over hype," he said. Of course, the ripples from severe cuts at MacDill would extend far beyond the battlefield. The base is a major employer in the Tampa Bay area and is responsible for a number of civilian contractors setting up shop here. The base's estimated economic impact on the Tampa Bay area is nearly $5 billion annually. Rather than wait and hope Congress acts responsibly - a seemingly remote possibility these days - our local congressional delegation needs to take Hagel's warning to heart and press their peers for a way clear of the sequestration cuts. There's too much at stake for the country, and for Tampa, to allow these cuts to occur.