From the grounding of Air Force and Navy performance fighter jets to the silencing of the Army’s Jazz Ambassadors, no American military tradition is safe, even at Fort Gordon, where one of the area’s premier summer celebrations could become the latest casualty of sequestration.
Faced with $41 billion in cuts this fiscal year, the Department of Defense is cutting community events on bases nationwide. Some fear Fort Gordon’s Fourth of July laser and fireworks extravaganza, attended by 35,000 people each year, could be next.
Fort Gordon has not canceled any community events – Spring Fest went on as scheduled this weekend – but officials have not dismissed the possibility.
“We continue to watch for new guidance from the Defense Department and the Army regarding budget uncertainties and potential furlough, and we’ll evaluate the impact of that guidance on local events as we receive it,” Fort Gordon Public Affairs Chief J.C. Matthews said in an e-mail.
Fort Bragg, N.C., officials recently canceled its July Fourth celebration, which draws 50,000 people annually, because of sequestration. The Air Force and Navy have suspended performances of their Thunderbird and Blue Angel jet teams, and the Army has cut some shows of its Jazz Ambassadors.
While the Fort Bragg event is almost twice the size of Fort Gordon’s, the type of
programming it features is similar. Both events, which go back decades, feature rides, amusements, live music and more than 1,500 firework displays, along with overtime costs.
The extra hours, which can run as high as $120,000 and are not reimbursable, are what did in Fort Bragg’s celebration, one of many programs the post cut to save about $6 million.
The savings are a drop in the bucket for Fort Bragg’s larger shortfall, which includes a $40 million shortage in utility payments alone.
Fort Gordon holds three major community events each year: Spring Fest, Freedom Fest and Oktoberfest.
The good news for Fort Gordon is these events are designed to be self-sustaining, meaning they rely on funds from the post’s Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation, not federal money from the installation’s operating budget.
Income from commercial sponsors, carnival operators, food and beverage sales, and other vendors cover almost all of the costs.
In 2012, as in most years, Fort Gordon’s festivals generated a small profit.
Officials estimate Oktoberfest and Spring Fest average 10,000 to 15,000 attendees each year, and Freedom Fest averages about 35,000. The cost to put on the events was $223,000 in fiscal year 2011 and $221,000 last year, according to fort estimates. Profits were made each year: $42,000 in 2011 and $37,000 in 2012.
While federal rules prohibit donations to cover lost events, many workers and spouses at Fort Bragg are volunteering their time and seeking legal advice to save their July
Bragg officials have said they’re reviewing other programs and services and have made some changes, such as canceling weekend controlled burns and mowing and landscaping contracts.
Fort Gordon got some good news last month, with the Defense Department saying furloughs had been reduced from 22 to 14 days. However, leaders have not discussed further cuts or the lengths it might go. But there is some indication Fort Gordon wants to keep all its events, whose funds go to support soldier and family programs and community facilities, such as the Barton Field stage, Courtyard Pool Complex, recreational lodging at Pointes West, golf course improvements and the Dinner Theater program.
“There are also costs in appropriated funds for the additional law enforcement personnel and other installation support needed to stage these large events,” Matthews said. “However, that’s a very small cost to pay, relative to the scope and quality of these events we offer to our community.”