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Far from home, unpaid Coast Guard members in Japan visit food pantry for essentials

Information Systems Technician 1 Joseph Bruce takes donated items from the food pantry at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019.

THERON GODBOLD/STARS AND STRIPES

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 24, 2019

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Servicemembers working without pay due to the government shutdown picked up donated groceries from a food pantry Thursday at the home of U.S. Forces Japan in western Tokyo.

Twenty-two Coast Guardsmen, including 15 at Yokota and seven in Singapore, aren’t being paid during the shutdown, which started more than a month ago. The impasse stems from House Democrats’ refusal to provide President Donald Trump with the billions he demands to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.

Other military branches have continued to receive paychecks, but the Coast Guard, a part of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Defense Department, has gone unfunded.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz on Wednesday publicly criticized the lack of pay.

“Ultimately, I find it unacceptable that Coast Guard men and women have to rely on food pantries and donations to get through day-to-day life as servicemembers,” he said in a video posted to his Twitter account.

Volunteer Susan Spano on Thursday showed Coast Guard members around the Yokota pantry, which is run by the Air Force Sergeants Association. She explained that they could take as many expired grocery items as they want and up to two bags of other items — one bag more than is usually allowed — each week.

Information Systems Technician 1 Joseph Bruce filled a shopping bag with free items such as bottled water, cans of pineapple, pasta sauce and sugar.

Bruce, whose wife is expecting a baby daughter, said he’s getting by so far but will be cutting into his savings if he doesn’t get paid next month.

“We’re trying to get ready for the baby and buying clothes and things,” he said. “My co-worker just had a baby, so she has been donating a lot of things for us, like a bassinet.”

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Nathan Wissmann said the Coast Guard’s mission in the Far East involves ship and port security inspections in several countries.

Coast Guard personnel have already missed a paycheck on Jan. 15 and could miss another Feb. 1.

That’s impacting people who rely on their pay to top up bank accounts, so they can meet automatic payments for recurring bills such as telephone and cable services, Wissmann said.

Military members from other service branches at Yokota have offered help and Coast Guard personnel have sought access to a mutual assistance fund that servicemembers donate to for emergencies, he said.

robson.seth@stripes.com
Twitter: @SethRobson

Information Systems Technician 1 Joseph Bruce takes donated items from the food pantry at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019.
THERON GODBOLD/STARS AND STRIPES

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