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Rucker pilot training saved from budget cuts

May. 30, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
army.mil
army.mil (army.mil)
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72 soldiers selected for warrant course

By Jim Tice
Staff Writer
The Army released results of its bimonthly warrant officer accessions board May 17.
People selected by the board will attend the six-week Warrant Officer Candidate Course at Fort Rucker, Ala., then attend a branch basic course to receive specialty training, and validate their appointment to a warrant officer rank and military occupational specialty.
The list contains the names of 72 enlisted soldiers of the Army and sister services, warrant officers and two captains who will attend flight school for helicopter training after completing the WOCC.■
See the list of warrant officer candidates here.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said he has scuttled plans to cut helicopter pilot training slots and flight hours that had been endangered by sequestration.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said he has scuttled plans to cut helicopter pilot training slots and flight hours that had been endangered by sequestration.

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Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said he has scuttled plans to cut 500 helicopter pilot training slots and 37,000 flight hours at Fort Rucker, Ala., that had been endangered by sequestration.

The reversal averts a $224.8 million aviation training cut that would have been “catastrophic, resulting in a multi-year impact on aviation flight crew production and readiness,” Odierno said in a May 17 letter to Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala.

The Army found money to pay for the training in the defense funding measure Congress passed in March. Roby praised language in the law that allowed commanders to set priorities and adjust their budgets accordingly.

“This is very good news for Fort Rucker” and its training mission, Roby told Army Times. “This is a priority for the Army, and for Fort Rucker to ensure the student load is fulfilled for this year is huge.”

Had the cuts been imposedat the Aviation Center of Excellence, service officials feared the students in the pipeline waiting for aviation training would have grown to 620 by 2014, Odierno’s letter said.

“This course of action was unacceptable and drove the decision to restore sufficient funding that, coupled with efficiencies such as a contract renegotiation and some early-year maintenance savings, now enables the training at levels that prevent a large backlog,” Odierno said.

Army officials for months had touted the cuts at Fort Rucker as one of the dire effects of sequestration, which requires a $40 billion cut in spending.

It’s unclear how long flight training will be safe, however. Odierno cautioned in his letter that the Army faces a “multibillion-dollar” shortfall in operation and maintenance funds that could still lead to future training cuts.

“I cannot guarantee training in many areas, including flight training, will not be affected by the end of the fiscal year,” he said.

Changing message

While testifying before a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee on March 25, Odierno had said some of the cuts had been pushed into 2014, but would otherwise go on as planned. But in his letter, Odierno said testimony had been based on outdated data and was “no longer accurate.”

“We understood from Gen. Odierno’s previous testimony before the committee that if Congress attached the defense appropriations bill to the continuing resolution that it would provide the flexibility needed to make [pilot training] a priority,” Roby said. “When I learned while questioning Odierno [March 25], the plans were in place to cut the flight hours and 500 students, I was surprised, as you can imagine.”

Roby said she had been working with Pentagon officials behind the scenes to ensure the Army had the funding flexibility to restore aviation training at Fort Rucker, which it ultimately did.

Roby said it is crucial for military leaders to speak frankly about the impact of sequestration in the short and long term to sway Congress to protect military spending.

“The threat to the flight training at Fort Rucker is an example that ought to raise the eyebrows of every member of Congress about what this means for readiness moving forward,” Roby said. “It’s important that we have the best trained combat pilots we can possibly have.”

Amid uncertainty over whether sequestration would ground training at Fort Rucker, the Army had temporarily stopped transferring officers into aviation from other branches in early April. Odierno told Roby in his March testimony the transfer panels would restart in 2014.■

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