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In Our Opinion — June 2013

Adapt and Carry On ...


Beyond the furloughs, which unfortunately began recently for some Department of Defense (DoD) civilian employees, recent comments from Col. Mitch E. Cassell, commanding officer, MCAS New River, N.C., give us a unique glimpse into the corrosive effects of the sequestration process on quality-of-life programs, specifically those overseen by Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS).

What began as a provision to force politicians to agree on a reasonable budget has turned into a harsh reality, putting undue stress on DoD civilian workers and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) professionals, who day-in and day-out rise up to challenges put before them, be they funding or otherwise. They are the backbone of the benefit, so to speak, but they can only take so much before the load becomes too much to bear.

As Cassell explains, appropriated funds (APF) subsidize MCCS recreational services, allowing MCCS to offer these programs at greatly reduced fees or at no cost in some cases. These funds provide a cushion that gives these vital quality-of-life programs some wiggle room to operate, and allow MCCS to continue to offer programs that may not be profitable but are still needed by Marines and their families; programs that may be out of reach for some if the Marine Corps, and other services, are forced to raise fees and charge for benefits that were once deemed essential.

“Since we don't want to eliminate services that are clearly meaningful to our customers, then restructuring is the only viable option,” Cassell told the New River community, noting that he understands how difficult the road may be moving forward.

“Adjusting fees does not come without some heartache — trust me, I feel it too,” he said. “I understand the impact on families who operate under a tight budget, and hopefully through reasonable price adjustments at places like the family pool, theater and recreational gear issue, we will be able to keep other facilities and programs free of charge for our families.”

What Cassell was telling the New River community, and the Marine Corps community as a whole, is: These programs are too important to cut, so we must find a way to restructure and adapt.

“What I can pledge to you and your families is that I will continue to do everything I can to ease these burdens for us all,” he said. “We are working together with our chain of command and HQMC to find good and reasonable solutions to continue to provide the quality programs at the value that you deserve.”

The effects of sequestration can also be seen within other branches, as the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard have expressed similar concerns over cuts threatening to compromise not only their operational capability but also their ability to provide the same level, frequency and consistency of programs that are key to morale and readiness.

The recent announcement by the Army that it is reducing the 30th edition of its Soldier Show tour — aptly titled Ready & Resilient — from 90-plus dates to fewer than 30 dates, is another example of some of the tough decisions services are faced with now that the sequestration process has begun.

And the Navy's canceling appearances by the Blue Angels and abandoning Fleet Week in New York, where it had traditionally anchored Memorial Day observances, are further repercussions of these budgetary constraints.

But in the face of the terrible misstep that is sequestration, these defenders of quality of life are showing that they will adapt and carry on.

As Cassell points out, at this time there is no other option.