Hundreds on furlough at Wyoming bases
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Thomas Sweeney wasn't surprised when he got his furlough notice shortly after reporting for work Tuesday at F.E. Warren Air Force Base.
"I really didn't expect those guys to get anything done," he said, referring to Congress' unsuccessful attempt to avoid a partial government shutdown.
"I feel a lot of us federal workers -- not just us in the (defense department), but all of us federal workers -- are being used as pawns by these people who can't seem to get anything done."
Sweeney is cartographic mapping technician with F.E. Warren AFB’s civil engineering squad.
He is one of the more than 760 civilian military workers in Wyoming who were given furlough notices Tuesday.
Their unpaid leave will continue until congressional Republicans and Democrats can reach a deal to end the shutdown.
The Wyoming Military Department announced Monday that more than 400 civilian Wyoming National Guard technicians and support staff will be furloughed.
Most of them work in Cheyenne at the Joint Forces Readiness Center.
F.E. Warren AFB spokeswoman 1st Lt. Eydie Sakura said about 360 civilians who work at the base will be without jobs as well.
The base operates 150 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. Sakura said only “mission essential operations” will continue during the shutdown.
“Our ICBM crew force will continue to stand alert alongside the teams that supports them,” she said. “However, anything that doesn’t fall into the excepted categories of safety of life and protection of property will be curtailed.”
Sakura said this includes the commissary, which will close today.
This is the second round of furloughs for most of Wyoming’s civilian U.S. Department of Defense workforce.
The workers were ordered to take six days of unpaid leave during the summer due to budget cuts caused by the sequestration.
Sweeney said he hopes Congress can reach a deal by this weekend or earlier.
He added that the furloughs already have been a financial hardship on the workers. And the longer the shutdown continues, the more painful it will be, he said.
Sweeney, 50, said he has savings and is fortunate that he doesn’t have to live paycheck to paycheck. But that is not the case for all of his colleagues.
“I don’t know who they are because it’s none of my business,” he said. “But I’m sure it is really going to affect some people.”
Still, Sweeney said he plans to cut back on his spending, especially since no one knows how long the shutdown will last.
He added that the local economy could suffer as other furloughed workers similarly watch their discretionary spending.
“We might not go out to eat, we might not go to a movie. And we are going to be more conservative with our money,” he said.
“I’ll still be able to pay my bills only because I haven’t racked up debt and haven’t lived frivolously. I have saved for a rainy day, and now it’s pouring.”
The furloughs will not apply to active-duty forces since they are considered “essential” to the nation’s security.
But the American Legion and other military advocates say the civilian workforce is just as valuable.
“As for civilians who work for the (defense department) and support our national security, furloughs and pay freezes are equally serious and threatening to our national security, especially at a time of war,” American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said.
He spoke in a statement shortly before the shutdown became official late Monday.
“Congress must act to make sure that our troops are paid, no matter what, and that their civilian supporters continue on duty and on the payroll. This is absolutely essential.”