By Mary Perez

Sun Herald

BILOXI — The budget at Keesler Air Force Base has been cut 20 percent by sequestration, grounding planes and reducing training, Brig. Gen. Brad Spacy said Tuesday.AIR_F-35A_AA-1_Flight_Top_lg

The commander of the 81st Training Wing spoke about the effects of sequestration at the Biloxi Chamber’s Morning Call at Edgewater Mall. He said one of the biggest challenges is the across-the-board cuts came so late in the budget year.

“If you give us time, we can plan for about anything,” he said.

Keesler, recently named the top base in the Air Force, had planned for a $12 million cut coming halfway through the year.

“Our mission has not changed,” Spacy said. The base must work to maintain that capability despite less money, he said.

The flying hour program, which reinforces combat flying skills, was cut by 200,000 hours and he said aircraft will be grounded. “We’re looking at parking one-third of our fighter fleet,” he said.

Long-term maintenance on planes will be curtailed by 18 percent, something that will have to be done after the planes start flying again, he said.

“To stop it is hard. To reverse it is even harder,” he said.

Travel is greatly reduced, and the Air Force has stopped doing air shows.

Some of the proposed cuts

were taken off the table by the federal government. Civilian furloughs were reduced from 22 to 14 days. Tuition-assistance payments were cut but then reinstated. The cuts now have to come from other areas, he said.

The community may notice the grass at Keesler won’t be cut or buildings painted as frequently, he said. Military members and their families may be using more local facilities if the base swimming pool and library close.

“The good news is we have very creative airmen,” he said. Some of the training has been moved online to save travel. He said programs have worked so well, “it may become the new way we teach.”

Spacy said more cuts could be coming. “We just don’t know.”