For the last three days, Washington’s shutdown showdown has sent home about 350 civilian employees at Shaw Air Force Base, causing the closure of services considered nonessential to the base’s defense mission.
The 20th Fighter Wing and Third Army, along with the rest of the U.S. military, continue to operate as normal during the shutdown, and Congress ensured service members’ pay would be unaffected by the federal government shutdown. But the ongoing standoff on Capitol Hill is having its effect on Sumter all the same.
“Our overall activities are reduced,” said Lt. Earon Brown, deputy public affairs chief with the 20th Fighter Wing. “But the demand for air power remains the same.”
On the first day of the shutdown Tuesday, Col. Clay Hall, commander of the 20th Fighter Wing, posted a letter addressed to “Team Shaw” on the base’s Facebook page outlining the effects base personnel could see. The commissary is closed because of the shutdown, as are Education Center offices, and the Family Readiness Center is offering limited services because only two military personnel are on site without their civilian counterparts. Many routine service contracts are also suspended.
The customer service desk at Shaw, which issues ID cards to personnel among other items, is also closed for the duration of the shutdown, although similar services are still available at McEntire Joint National Guard Base and Fort Jackson.
“This furlough is greatly distressing to our teammates that have already suffered furlough days earlier this summer and will affect some base services,” Hall said in the open letter.
Some other services at the base, like the Child Development Center, remain open.
“Those are paid for out of non-appropriated funds,” Brown said, meaning they don’t depend for their income on the congressional spending authorization that expired at midnight Monday.
A small number of civilians whose jobs are considered critical to Shaw’s national defense mission are “excepted” from the effects of the shutdown and continue to work. Depending on the length of the impasse, Brown said other employees currently on furlough may need to be brought back to complete critical assignments.
“Should the shutdown continue, we may need to add additional support... based on operational requirements,” he said.
While civilians were warned by their chain of command they might face furloughs prior to the shutdown, commanders found it difficult to keep up with developments in Washington.
“It’s hard to prepare ahead of time when you don’t know until 11:59 the night of (Sept.) 30th whether it’s going to shutdown,” Brown said.
One thing base personnel will continue to do throughout the shutdown is stay prepared to answer the call of duty.
“Even though it’s unfortunate our civilian teammates have been furloughed, we’re going to maintain our readiness and continue to fly,” he said.
Hall echoed that sentiment in his open letter earlier in the week.
“The mission is continuing and we must remain ready to execute,” Hall wrote. “Rest assured your leadership will ensure you and your families have what you need to safely and effectively carry on throughout the government shutdown period — however long it lasts.”