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During a shutdown, most servicemembers expect pay issue to be resolved

STUTTGART, Germany — The possibility of a government shutdown looms large as the Friday deadline for passing a 2011 spending bill nears, and the prospect that troops’ paychecks could be among the casualties is taking hold among some servicemembers across the globe.

“I think it’s a high possibility,” said Seaman Nina Crowe at Naval Support Activity Capodichino in Naples, Italy. “It won’t be good, but we’ve still got to come to work.”

Crowe said sailors in her unit had been discussing the effect a government shutdown would have on their pay, but added that “it’s out of our hands.”

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During an appearance before lawmakers last week, the military’s enlisted leadership told the House Appropriations Committee that the current budget crisis is weighing heavy on soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, according to an Air Force Times account of testimony.

“At the end of the day, we have a lot of soldiers who live from paycheck to paycheck, and stopping that pay is a really huge burden hanging over their shoulders right now,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III said during the hearing, which touched on a range of quality-of-life issues.

However, despite assertions that rank-and-file servicemembers are fearfully tracking the budgetary gridlock in Washington, a sampling of opinions at bases in Europe and the Pacific showed most are largely untroubled and are confident there will be a resolution.

“To be honest, no one is thinking about it at all,” said Sgt. 1st Class William Easton, of the U.S. Army Garrison in Stuttgart. “I haven’t heard anyone mention it.”

“They’re more concerned with what’s going to happen with Final Four,” added Easton, referring to Monday’s NCAA college basketball championship game.

But come Friday, that could change if Congress doesn’t pass a 2011 budget or come up with yet another short-term funding bill, which has kept the government going during a six-month budgetary logjam.

Senior Airman Michael Strombelline, stationed at RAF Lakenheath in England, said he had faith the government would find a way to get troops paid. If not, there will be a lot of financial pain, he said.

“I don’t know how people would survive,” Strombelline said. “Most enlisted people live paycheck to paycheck. I’d have to cut into my savings, but it would run out pretty quick. I don’t know how long I could maintain my current lifestyle.”

In response to such concerns, some lawmakers have proposed plans to keep paychecks coming in lieu of a budget agreement.

One such measure being pursued by House Republicans would fund the Pentagon for the remainder of the fiscal year, while keeping the rest of the domestic government running for just another week as the two sides continue to work through differences.

Pfc. Hatherley Lantzy, with the U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan in South Korea, said soldiers had been discussing the possible loss of their paycheck on Facebook. Most, she said, didn’t think a government shutdown would actually happen.

“The Army’s taken care of me so far, so I trust them to pay me,” said Lantzy.

“If you’re willing to die for your country, you should get paid,” said Pvt. Lauren Murrmann,also stationed at Yongsan.

If the Army cuts pay, it will likely affect recruiting, she added.

“Nobody’s going to want to join,” Murrmann said.

Yongsan-based Sgt. 1st Class Oneesha Mitchell said she is taking comfort in the memory of budgetary clashes from years past, such as the government shutdown of 1995, which did not affect servicemembers’ pay.

“I don’t know too many people who are actually talking about it,” said Mitchell, who added that she’s followed news of possible pay cuts in the media. “It’s past the 1st [of the month], and I know I got paid.”

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Pete Morgan, who left active duty but is at NSA Capodichino in Naples for a month as part of a reservist tour, said he was more concerned with how a government shutdown will affect his GI Bill benefits. He is supposed to start college this summer but still hasn’t received the paperwork.

“If they stop, that will definitely get screwed up,” said Morgan. “And my pay will, too.”

Still, he said he thinks the government will resolve the issue before a shutdown occurs.

Meanwhile, at a time when political polls show most Americans have little faith in congress members to sort out their differences, some troops are optimistic that paychecks will continue to arrive on time.

“I have absolute faith in our government,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Constantine Malek, stationed at Misawa Air Base in Japan. “I have no fear whatsoever” of not getting paid.

Reporters Geoff Ziezulewicz, Ashley Rowland, David Hodge and T.D. Flack contributed to this story.

vandiverj@estripes.osd.mil

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