One Airman's perspective

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brandon Sabin/Released)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brandon Sabin/Released)

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- In May, as a result of the 2011 Budget Control Act, commonly referred to as "Sequestration," the Secretary of Defense announced a furlough of most Department of Defense civilians in order to save roughly $2 billion of the Department's $11 billion budget shortfall. Sequestration has generated important discussion about fiscal responsibility, training and readiness. However, I have not heard from the more than 800,000 civilian workers in the DoD as part of that discussion. This is my story...

I am an American Airman. I am a Logistics Readiness Officer. I was thoroughly blued at Squadron Officers School and re-blued at Air Command and Staff College in residence. I have deployed to Afghanistan for a year. I have been a civil servant with the Department of the Air Force for almost 17 years and am currently on furlough under sequestration.

Like most Americans, I am saddened our government and our DoD were unable to reach a different solution to our current fiscal constraints. While it is unfortunate and more than a bit insulting that the civilian workforce was targeted for furlough after years of pay freezes and steady reductions in training and career development, I understand these are difficult decisions.

Many regard the furlough as a painful but necessary decision to tackle the budget problem. Unfortunately, the choice to discriminate against our civilians only perpetuates the worst stereotype of government civilian, and frankly sets conditions that encourage Congress and our Air Force to devalue America's civilian warriors. [The unwritten implication that we're not needed is clear; less obvious is the suggestion that no one will notice when we're gone.] Furlough rules say that at 8 hours and 1 minute, it is appropriate and acceptable that I leave my boss in a lurch, and leave those Airmen I supervise to finish the mission without their flight lead. Asking me to do this is unprofessional, impractical, insulting and debasing.

It is absurd to think a United States Air Force professional who is paid 20 percent less will care 20 percent less and perform 20% less. The Air Force has diligently reminded me of the Anti-Deficiency Act, together with ultimatums demanding that civilian personnel work no more than 32 hours during the furlough. The flaw in this logic is that it assumes we only worked 40 hours per week before the furlough.

The reality is that professionals work for more than a pay check. If this was about the money, I would work in the private sector and earn more money, enjoy more benefits and accept less personal risk. If it was about the money, our Air Force would be unable to retain pilots, doctors, electricians and lawyers. A career is about more than money -- it is about ideals, it is about hard, relevant, contributive work. It is about growing, it is about commitment, and it is about a greater good. To ask me to do less than my best, to ask me to drop what I am doing at hour 8, or hour 32, is to ask me to violate my core values as well as those of the Air Force. Is this the leadership lesson we want to impart?

Today, will I do my job with pride, precision, and professionalism or today will I let sequestration get the better of me? Today I have to decide which ball gets dropped, which buck gets passed and which mission objective gets punted until tomorrow.

My father, a career Army officer, told me I should find a job I would do for free. I've done that. I used to think I had the best job on earth - a career that allowed me to progress as far as my performance and work ethic would take me, a job that allowed me to learn new skills every day, a vocation that enabled me to work with people from every walk of life and travel to every corner of the globe. For the first time in my adult life, I'm thinking of doing something different. Not because of the pay cut, but because my Air Force placed artificial, arbitrary limits on me to do less, serve less, dream less and contribute less. I am willing to be paid less and work more, but I am not willing to lower my standards, sacrifice my core values, or be valued less.

The Air Force has asked us to capture the tangible and intangible effects of sequestration. While the intent to tell the story is noble, it also contributes to the problem. At some point our Air Force needs to accept the new reality and just move forward. We have less people, less money and less time. It may or may not benefit the mission to devote scarce energy and resources quantifying the effects of something temporary that has already happened. Airmen are remarkably resourceful and most real impacts will not be seen for months or years to come.

At this moment decisions are being made about the big muscle movements -- to ground aircraft, limit military construction, constrain acquisitions, and a 20 percent reduction in depot maintenance, but you will never be able to capture and articulate the effects of hard working American Airmen at their post-20 percent less. Civilian Airmen as well as active duty Airmen are doing whatever is necessary, all the way down to prioritizing the purchase of printer toner over fuel or fuel over toner, scrambling to transfer an extra $50 to purchase light bulbs for the stairway, squeezing the budget to somehow purchase the next 100 gallons of gasoline for the vehicles...it will all get done, whether the work gets shifted to our active duty, it comes out of the snack fund, someone's own pocket, or someone comes in on a Sunday and works for free. The mission will be accomplished and to ask that it doesn't begins a process of turning us into a second rate Air Force and weakens our foundations of integrity and service. The bottom line from sequestration is that Air Force civilians are either Airmen or they're not. This is something our Air Force, my Air Force, needs to carefully consider and decide.

Until then, I am an American Airman.