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Army vice chief of staff hopes to ease civilian furloughs

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FORT DRUM — The Army’s vice chief of staff, Gen. John F. Campbell, said Thursday that he hopes as many as six scheduled furlough days out of 11 this fiscal year can be avoided for civilian defense workers.

“We understand the impact it has on the families and the people that are furloughed,” Gen. Campbell said in brief remarks to the media during a visit to Fort Drum. “The department is really working very hard to make sure that we can hopefully buy back some of those.”

The furloughs due to federal budget cuts, which started in July and are scheduled to continue until the end of September, affect about 1,800 workers on post. Gen. Campbell said “nobody wanted it to go that way” when it was determined that most civilian workers would be required to take 11 unpaid days off.

Despite some hopes of a reduction, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday that no decision had been made by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about reducing the furlough-day count.

Gen. Campbell said the Army had found billions of dollars in savings through reductions in areas such as fuel costs that may help make a change possible, perhaps cutting from three to six furlough days.

“We believe now that hopefully we can buy back, and we look at that as buy back readiness, as our great civilians provide for that readiness,” he said. “It’s absolutely the right thing to do.”

The general said the quality of the civilian workers locally was evident by their concerns about aiding the division in completing its objectives, and he also spoke highly of the community’s support for the post.

“Fort Drum continues to be one of those posts that stay engaged with the war fight in Afghanistan,” Gen. Campbell said. “People here know better than anybody else the sacrifice of the families and our soldiers. If you’re back in Washington where I’m at all the time, sometimes you forget about that.”

Gen. Campbell said the reduction of soldiers from about 560,000 to 490,000 along with several brigades, such as the post’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, between now and the end of fiscal year 2017 were based on pre-sequestration funding. If the cuts continue, forcing budget reductions of about $50 billion for the 2014 fiscal year, additional personnel cuts are possible, Gen. Campbell said.

Gen. Campbell’s appearance on post, which started Wednesday afternoon, was part of a tour to assess the implementation of the Army’s Ready and Resilient Campaign. The campaign combines existing programs in several areas such as resilience training and suicide prevention into a single effort to aid soldiers.

“I think Fort Drum had already started working this piece before the Army put out the Ready and Resilient campaign, and they’ll continue to work that very hard,” Gen. Campbell said. “I’m proud of what they already have going on.”

Before visiting post, the general stopped at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey. Gen. Campbell and his staff also will visit Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort Jackson, S.C.,on their tour.

In addition to a briefing from post and 10th Mountain Division commander Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, Gen. Campbell’s visit included meetings and forums with the post’s soldiers, families and civilians.

The vice chief of staff praised the post’s sponsorship of incoming soldiers, calling it the best in the Army, along with its physical fitness resources. Into the future, Gen. Campbell said, he worries funding will not be there to support services that assist soldiers, and he said installations may have to approach it differently.

“We can’t have a cookie-cutter approach to it,” he said. “We’ve got to really look hard to make sure we’re providing the resources for what counts here at Fort Drum.”

Asked about an Army Times report that about 30,000 children in Army homes suffered abuse or neglect in the last decade, Gen. Campbell said the report shows the need for resilience resources. Though the story showed the Army’s rate of abuse is several times less than the civilian rate, Gen. Campbell said that even one case is bad, and “what you want to do is get after that problem and really work at it.”

Among the general’s travel party Wednesday and Thursday were a pair of past division leaders: Col. Kenneth H. Riddle, former garrison commander, and Col. Patrick D. Frank, former 3rd Brigade Combat Team commander.

The Army Times report about child abuse in Army homes can be found at http://wdt.me/RbRcQK.

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