Air bases face

By Dave GooderhamVITAL services at the region's two American airbases could be slashed to avoid a “budget crisis” caused by the continuing conflict in Iraq.

By Dave Gooderham

VITAL services at the region's two American airbases could be slashed to avoid a budget crisis caused by the continuing conflict in Iraq.

Military chiefs at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath are bracing themselves for major cutbacks after it was revealed the United States Air Force is facing a $3billion shortfall.

The news comes just weeks after it was announced RAF Mildenhall was set to lose more than 1,000 personnel, a fifth of its manpower.

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But Lakenheath district councillor Bruce Rutterford said: “I think it will affect what happens on base a lot more than off-base.

“The Americans certainly don't use community services as much as they used to as they have everything they need on base - which is just a sign of the times.”

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Grenville Dale, chairman of Beck Row Community Association, added: “I can't see this making much difference on the local community.

“The situation is very sad. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, we were very much part of each other's community. But since then they have got more and more self-sufficient and since 9/11 we really have two separate communities.”

It is thought that the cuts throughout bases in Europe are a direct result of the ongoing conflict in Iraq and the war against terrorism.

A spokesman for RAF Mildenhall said they would be postponing all new civilian jobs and curtailing travel costs and some equipment expenditure.

“Servicemen on base have been instructed that funds would be limited this fiscal year, which ends in September,” he added.

“This is because we have had to increase our financial support on the global war on terror. Commanders have also been told to look closely at their own individual budgets to ensure they continue to meet mission readiness and provide for the safety and quality of life for troops.”

Gary Marlar, U.S. Army Europe budget officer, said funds would have to be prioritised to ensure soldiers were adequately equipped and trained for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He told the U.S. forces newspaper Stars and Stripes: “To ensure we can most effectively and efficiently support these priorities, we have implemented several initiatives to reduce, defer or eliminate non-essential expenditures where possible.

“To date, we have not cancelled specific projects or programmes. In addition to the normal review of day-to-day operations such as travel and overtime, we are reviewing theatre maintenance operations to ensure that we continue to perform pre-deployment and maintenance in the most efficient, cost-effective manner.”

Earlier this month, the East Anglian Daily Times revealed more than 1,000 servicemen could be leaving RAF Mildenhall under plans to move the base's 352nd Special Operations Group to either Spain or Italy.

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