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October 8, 2012

Military funerals under federal budget strains

(Continued)

FORT GIBSON —

“You can always do more; we just have to do the minimum,” Barbee said.

For a funeral with full honors, which includes a 21-gun salute and pallbearer service, the typical detail now would include nine soldiers, when 21 might have performed those duties in the past, Barbee said. Full honors are always used when a soldier is killed in action.

When the cuts for the current fiscal year went into effect, Barbee said his full-time staff was cut from 19 to six, with those soldiers who were cut moving to part time. There are 27 soldiers who are currently on part-time orders.

If the National Guard is stretched too thin, the U.S. Army or Army Reserve can help pick up the slack, but the Oklahoma National Guard performs about 90 percent of the military services in the state, Barbee said. He said he or the full Army detail doesn’t expect to have to turn away any families who request the service.

“They made it a big deal to take the burden off the active duty and to make it a more specialized program,” Barbee said. “They wanted it done well.”

Barbee said he expects that additional funds could come through later in the fiscal year, as they did in the spring, but it’s not something he can count on. He has to budget as if the money they have now is all they’ll have for full-time soldiers.

The funding for part-time soldiers and supplies is also thin, but the state has sometimes helped with vehicles and supplies in the past, Barbee said.

Despite the cuts, Oklahoma National Guard soldiers say the service they provide to grieving families is important, a show of support from a grateful nation.

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