The spigot of funds the federal government has been pouring into state-level armed forces readiness since the attacks of 9/11 has been ebbing, and that presents challenges for the Tennessee Military Department, the agency’s commanding officer told Gov. Bill Haslam during budget hearings recently.
But Maj. Gen. Max Haston said his department is capable of doing more with less.
“Overall sir, our goals are designed to increase efficiency and effectiveness while providing the state with an invaluable response force and a management team that’s always focused on return on the investment, value added,” Haston said.
Since a high of $43 million in 2003, the state’s annual federal “homeland security” funds have shrunk to $3.9 million in 2014.
State funds only make up 22 percent of the department’s total $69.3 million budget request, or $15.8 million. Federal funding amounts to $51.2 million, and the additional $2.3 million comes from interdepartmental revenue.
The military department oversees the Tennessee Army and Air National Guard, as well as the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
The Volunteer State’s current National Guard force of around 14,000 is comprised of 10,668 guardsmen and about 3,450 in the Air Guard. The peak of Tennessee’s guard deployment was in 2005-06, when more than 50 percent of the state’s forces were deployed, Haston said. Currently there are 467 army and 69 air guardsmen from Tennessee deployed as part of the U.S. fighting forces in Afghanistan, he said.
The Tennessee departments of Veterans Affairs and Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services announced in September “the number of suicides by veterans increased from 197 in 2012 to 214 in 2013.” And in October, a Pentagon medical statistics journal showed suicides –taking the lives of three out of 10 servicemembers — replaced “war” as the leading means of death for American troops in 2012 and 2013.
Haston said five years ago his department began outreach to soldiers to help fill “the gap” in post-deployment counseling, with which they have helped more than 600 current and former servicemembers and family receive since 2013. Haston added more than 80 guard members have been talked down from hurting themselves since the department partnered with the Jason Foundation in 2011 for the “Guard Your Buddy” program.
Additionally, the partnership with Dollar General — “Paychecks for Patriots” — has put more than 3,000 people to work, and “continues to grow every day,” Haston said.
TEMA head David Purkey said less funding means less training and equipment for his agency. All federal funds are being used to sustain current operations, and the agency is “struggling with that,” Purkey said. Because “all state funding for TEMA goes to match federal programs” — which have increased 8.5 percent over the past 5 years — cutting state funds will cut federal funds, he added.
TEMA held 17 state-level exercises in 2014 with 2,730 participants from local, state and federal partners, including an active shooter event at TVA’s Sequoyah Nuclear Plant that was completed with “no deficiencies,” Haston said. The agency also instructed more than 7,852 students in 430 training classes, including hazmat, search and rescue and tracking classes, he said.
Although sequestration cuts and reduced periods for federal grants are challenges for them, department training won’t be immediately impacted, though they will have “to be creative in our training,” Haston said. The department invested in a lot of “simulations” in the past, so units can receive adequate training without adding travel and other associated training costs, he said.
Given the levels of federal funding, as well as cost-shared activities, Haston said he had to be specific about where cuts are made, and the department’s 7 percent reduction plan is focused on expenses in facility maintenance and supplies, and also in armory utilities.
Utility costs are the department’s greatest expense, Haston said. This year they’ve created a new checklist for administrative officers to use while inspecting facilities to ensure they’re meeting standards, he added. He said the department has decreased electricity use by 19 percent over the past four years, and is continuing to look for ways to improve energy efficiency.
The Army Aviation move from Smyrna to Berry Field is about 20 percent complete and will help the department’s energy efficiency goals, Haston said.
Additionally, Haston informed Haslam he’s requested federal permission to use the Air Guard’s Cyber Security Squadron to help provide cyber security for Tennessee, which he said would be better than an outside agency. “It’s a tool in the governor’s tool box, I think we need to be able to use it.”