ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- Discussion of furloughs was first and foremost on the minds of Army Sustainment Command personnel attending the first town hall March 19 conducted by their commanding general since taking charge last September.

"It's a great honor and privilege to be here," said Brig. Gen. John Wharton, who is also the senior mission commander of Rock Island Arsenal, Ill. "Everyone [in Army leadership] knows what we do. It wasn't always like that," he told the audience in the packed Baylor Conference Room in Building 103.

Live streaming video was available for those off-site and for those not able to personally attend.

The potential furloughs are slated to take effect late April.

This is a "national budget crisis," Wharton explained, "not a negative reflection of our mission or performance."

But before furloughs become a reality, civilian employees will receive a 30-day advance proposal during the last week of March. Supervisor's will issue them either face-to-face or by certified mail.

"If you look me square in the eye, I'll tell you. I'll always be open and honest with you," Wharton said.

The furloughs -- expected to last from April 21 through Sept. 20 of this fiscal year -- will result in a 20 percent reduction in pay for most civilian employees in the Department of Defense. This is based on working four days a week each pay period.

One exception is those civilians working in combat zones, Wharton said.

The final decision to implement rests with the Secretary of the Army, Wharton said. Overall, it would mean a maximum of 22 discontinuous furlough days totaling 176 hours.

Wharton said that ASC would plan for employees to be off on Fridays. The days off does not include military personnel or contractors who support the command. However, the Army-wide plan will reduce new and current contract levels without penalties.

However, ASC Command Sgt. Maj. James Spencer took the opportunity to state that Soldiers will be affected too.

"It's going to have a tremendous effect," Spencer said.

Soldiers will have to cover down on Fridays to continue the ASC mission factoring in no civilians that day.

It was also announced that a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority/Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment is slated soon.

The "VERA/VSIP" as it is commonly called, is used by management to reduce or reshape organizations and the command.

ASC had 93 VSIP buyouts during its first two offerings last year and plans to open another window of opportunity to reshape only from April 4 through May 3.

An incentive up to $25,000 can be offered.

There is also an Army-wide freeze now in effect for hiring civilian personnel.

During these stressful times, Wharton said "I need everyone to manage everyone else."

The former chief of staff for ASC's higher headquarters, the Army Materiel Command located at Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Ala., presented a 42-slide presentation to illustrate sequestration, a Command Climate Assessment, and the ASC Campaign Plan.

The assessment is a survey used by management to gauge attitudes about the workplace. The campaign plan serves to illustrate trends and future plans in relation to goals and missions.

Wharton thanked those in attendance and those watching via live video streaming in offices and offsite for their work during the last decade that involved ASC heavily in support of U.S. and coalition forces for their operations in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I just wanted to say how much I appreciate what you do, day in and day out," Wharton said. "Thank you for what you do."

Regarding ASC's climate assessment, the findings boiled down to this:

O Personnel felt that ASC's leadership was better than 2011
O Team work is moving in the right direction
O There are good human relations and a good work/life balance
O Personnel are satisfied with their surroundings
O ASC is challenged with providing opportunities for all ASC employees who would like to deploy
The survey was taken from Sept. 4 -- Oct. 12 of last year. It did not include employees from 73 Directorates of Logistics located around the world. The DOLs came under control of ASC last October.

The survey focused on seven areas: Leadership, Personal Work, Your Work Group, Supervision, Deployment Opportunities, Human Relations, and Work-Life Balance. All areas were perceived as improved by responders from the 2011 assessment except one -- deployment opportunities, which fell 6 percent.

And, in three of the categories -- personal work, supervision, and human relations -- a combined percentage of 70 percent or higher under the ratings "strongly agree" and "agree" were tallied.

In leadership, 64 percent of the responders felt senior leaders effectively communicate the goals and priorities of the command. "Everyone is in sync," he said.

As for the Campaign Plan -- or way ahead -- Wharton stated the ASC mission as sustaining Army and joint forces in support of combatant commanders. ASC does this by organizing, training, and sustaining a quality deployable force; integrating materiel and services for Warfighters; and having Army-wide readiness and strategic depth.

ASC has a global reach with presence in 17 countries and 28 states with 65,000 civilians, Soldiers and contractors operating on a budget of $11 billion this fiscal year, Wharton said.

It also has seven brigades, 20 field support battalions, is the Army's Equipment Distribution Management Center, has one Logistics Civil Augmentation Program Support Brigade, and the Army Sustainment Command-Army Reserve Element, along with the DOLs.

On one slide, ASC's "Enduring Priorities" were given with taking care of the workforce and developing emerging leaders boldfaced; it also showed "Current Priorities" and that had managing sequestration and DOL funding, along with command resourcing boldfaced.

"It's a leadership team," Wharton said of management organization-wide. "Not who just sits in the front office."

Wharton also showed a slide showing peaks and valleys of Army funding since 1945 and said the trend through 2020 indicated a reduction in spending because of the end of fighting in Iraq and drawdown in Afghanistan.

The current situation, he said, reflects "a strategic inflection point" illustrated by less funding.

"Where do you accept risk?" Wharton rhetorically asked regarding budget shortfalls that directly affect missions. "We must adapt to remain relevant."

Wharton acknowledged that many ASC personnel were aware of ensuing fiscal problems and potential ramifications explained through various memorandums to the workforce during the last two months and reported by the media.

Essentially, the Army's organizations are tasked to reduce costs and plan for an $18 billion cut, which includes a $5 billion shortfall for Operations and Maintenance that affects funding for civilian salaries.

The shortfall was incurred because of a Continuing Resolution Authority from Congress expected to be implemented at the end of March -- in absence of signed funding bill -- spending at the previous fiscal year's level.

Some tips were offered and reiterated:

o Manage Stress -- keep things in perspective to reduce anxiety
o Be Safe -- Uncertainty can lead to lack of concentration and accidents
o Realize what you can or cannot control; plan accordingly
o Don't jump to conclusions -- get the facts
o Ask for help if needed -- consult with supervisors, health care providers, Employee Assistance Program, Army Community Services, the Chaplain or personal church leaders, friends and coworkers. Numbers include:
o EAP - Rock Island - 309-782-HELP (4357)
o ACS - Rock Island - 309-782-0829
o ASC Chaplain - 309-782-0910

And for financial resources support information, contact Jon Cook of ACS at 309-782-0815/0829.

After his briefing, Wharton offered attendees to ask questions. A couple of employees did regarding what fiscal year 2014 might bring.

"I don't have any ideas. I don't think anybody does," Wharton said. "They're all playing it step by step."