Pentagon Considers More Cuts to Troop Benefits

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Base commissaries, golf courses, bowling alleys, recreation centers, auto hobby shops, and even the Stars and Stripes newspaper might have to go as a result of the current budget crisis, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

"Nobody has decided to close anything, [but] budget uncertainty is problematic for us," said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. "We're taking a hard look at how to save money."

The Defense Department is looking to cut at least $50 billion from military spending next year unless Congress and the White House can agree to lift the sequestration process, Warren said.

In addition to shutting down Stars and Stripes, DoD is also considering elimination of the Pentagon Channel and programming cuts to American Forces Network.

In 2013, the American Forces Radio and Television Service cost DoD about $51.6 million. The budget for the Pentagon Channel was $6.1 million, and the subsidy for Stars and Stripes' was $7.8 million, according to Pentagon officials.

The independent Stars and Stripes has published continuously since World War II and has such alumni as news legends Bill Mauldin and Andy Rooney.

Col. Warren cited the refrain from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that "all cost-cutting efforts need to be on the table" in the current budget climate.

Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the Air Force Chief of Staff, has been underlining the cost-cutting message in visits this week to air bases in North and South Dakota. Welsh also stressed that he was not engaging in "scare tactics" on potential cutbacks in an effort to get Congress to ease up on sequester.

Welsh said that "nice to have" amenities such as golf courses, hobby shops, and bowling alleys might be shut down, but he insisted that "there is absolutely no motivation for a service chief to try and scare people in his service -- none."

"Nobody cares more about the men and women in our services than the service chiefs and nobody wants to do what's right for them more than we do," Welsh said during a visit to Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., according to the American Forces Press Service.

Welsh also said that none of the service chiefs was considering cuts to pay and benefits, but he backed cutting the rate of growth.

"Our people will understand that," Welsh said.

Congress has boosted pay and benefits in recent years and "we all benefited immensely and we thank them for that," Welsh said. "But it is time to slow it down a little bit until we know we can do out primary job, which is fight and win the nation's wars," Welsh said.

The military currently has 178 commissaries stateside, and another 70 overseas. Col. Warren said that "no commissaries are about to close," but closing them is definitely under consideration.

DoD last year appropriated a total of $1.4 billion for the commissaries in the U.S. and overseas, Pengaton officials said. About 30 percent of commissary employees are military spouses, and shopping at commissaries has been estimated to save the average military family of four about $4,500 annually, according to the Defense Commissary Agency.

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