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What The Government Shutdown Means For Military Families


The government shutdown is already affecting military service members and their families. While active-duty troops still have to work, they're doing so without pay, at least for now. As Alaska Public Media's Zachariah Hughes reports, the days ahead are uncertain for many.

ZACHARIAH HUGHES, BYLINE: It's 15 degrees as cars and trucks crunch over the ice and rock salt on the road into Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson in Anchorage.

People working at gates are letting people on. People are heading off. Folks are in the visitor's center, and they say things are going to be pretty regular for the next couple days.

At this base and all the others, active-duty service members will keep working regardless of what happens in Washington. Whether they'll get back pay is up to Congress. Essential jobs like monitoring this security gate on base will still be carried out. But already, some operations are being dropped. Members of Alaska's National Guard were supposed to be here for weekend drills, but most of those exercises were canceled, affecting about 4,000 people. Likewise, the shutdown will hit civilians who work as contractors for the Defense Department.

SHANEE HENDERSON: Kind of like a admin, yeah, a program coordinator. So...

HUGHES: Shanee Henderson was shopping at a Target not far from base. She says employees like her were warned before the shutdown that most people would be sent home but not everyone. Henderson says some civilians will stay in jobs that are directly essential to operations.

HENDERSON: If the military still comes to work, I come to work. You know, regardless, I get paid. So...

HUGHES: For those people who are furloughed, a shutdown is difficult. Families can get pushed into debt, and the uncertainty of no money coming in is stressful. As more military operations have migrated to contract services, it means there's a greater share of labor being done by civilians. On military bases, many schools, counseling services and dining halls are still open. But others, like family support services and child development centers, might be closed by their commanders. Commissaries will have an orderly shutdown to get rid of perishable food items. For active-duty service members, their jobs won't be any easier the next few days. Army Lieutenant Colonel Martyn Crighton says for soldiers in Alaska, their day-to-day work stays the same.

MARTYN CRIGHTON: It will mean that there's more work being done by fewer people, for sure.

HUGHES: This weekend, military commanders are assessing which of their civilian contractors will still be needed come Monday. Crighton says if the government remains shut down tomorrow, all civilian staff at the base in Anchorage will still be required to show up. Those furloughed will then have just four hours to collect their things and leave.

CRIGHTON: We will be making do with a much slimmer civilian workforce while most of them are on furlough.

HUGHES: Whenever lawmakers reach a deal, it's likely service members, their families and civilian contractors will all have to play catch-up afterwards, something that will take longer if the government shutdown drags on. For NPR News, I'm Zachariah Hughes in Anchorage. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Zachariah Hughes