Wing Commander: public safety not a concern despite furloughs at -

Wing Commander: public safety not a concern despite furloughs at 177th

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The government shutdown has directly affected the 177th Fighter Wing base in Egg Harbor Township.

Colonel Kerry Gentry, Commander of the 177th Fighter Wing, said, "Everyday that a furlough goes on, that impacts my ability to maintain the mission, to continue with the mission, and to maintain that readiness level that we are depending on."

As the government shutdown continues across the country, locally, hundreds of National Guard members have been affected. Gentry said, "It is a bit of a challenge, if you can imagine for them - and from my perspective it is a personal challenge because I feel for them."

The base normally staffs three categories of employees: Civilian Technicians - who are federal government employees; Active Guard members - who are similar to active members of the military; and part-time guardsmen.

With all of these men and women on the base, they staff about 350 people. But with the government shutdown, that is not an option.

Gentry explained, “In an effort to alleviate the situation, we were exempted approximately 60 of these employees. That allows me to maintain my mission critical folks on duty."

With the base quieter than usual, officials say their commitment to safety and their overall mission remains loud and clear for their exempted employees. Gentry said, "The primary mission here is twofold: there is a federal mission, where we provide homeland defense through our Aerospace Control Alert. Our aircrafts are on 24/7 alert. They are prepared to respond to a 9/11 type scenario. But we also have a commitment to the Governor of New Jersey to maintain a mission-ready response force, task force if you will, available at a moments notice for any state emergency."

Officials also say that if necessary, they would have an opportunity to mobilize furloughed employees back to the base to help in the event of an emergency. Gentry added, "But that would be contingent upon the President or the Governor declaring an emergency and placing us under that control."

Colonel Gentry says if he could, he would bring all of his staff back tomorrow and get back to their daily operations.

Officials say of the 350 full-time employees, approximately 200 were furloughed, leaving roughly 150 on the base.

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