Shutdown brings toilet paper crisis to Air Force Academy, protesters to Fort Carson

The U.S. Air Force Academy still has scenic and architectural beauty, but the government shutdown has taken its toll on specialized classes ... and basic necessities.


By TOM ROEDER | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Published: October 4, 2013

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — As the federal shutdown ground into its third day on Thursday, Fort Carson civilian workers voiced their frustrations with a noisy protest at the post's main gate.

Dozens of members of the American Federation of Government Employees chanted about ending the shutdown, eliciting baritone honks from passing 18-wheelers.

There's been sadness and fear to go with the anger, said Albert Rivera, vice president of the union's chapter on Fort Carson.

"We've seen a lot of tears," he said.

How important are those 5,000 furloughed civilian Defense Department workers in Colorado Springs?

Ask Air Force Academy cadets who ran into serious shutdown trouble. It seems the civilian worker who orders toilet paper was off the job, causing a crisis while supplies were obtained.

"We hope it doesn't go on for too much longer," said Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the academy's superintendent.

If the shutdown continues, problems at the academy would extend far beyond restrooms.

The school furloughed 330 workers from its instructional programs, leading to the cancellation of 60 specialized classes.

If those classes are called off for more than a few days, cadets will have to make up time or risk not graduating on time.

Long-term cancellations also could cause the academy to lose its accreditation as a college, making degrees worthless outside the military.

"This is new ground for our country and for us," Johnson said.

The academy's football team left Thursday for its Saturday game at the Naval Academy in Maryland.

But the rivalry will lose some of its off-field pageantry this year.

No other cadets will head to the game from Colorado Springs.

"I'm not going and the cheerleaders aren't going," Johnson said.

The game was called off before insurance firm USAA came forward with a $230,000 donation to pay for the travel. Even with donated cash, there was serious debate on whether Air Force, which cancelled flying operations and laundry service, should send its team while more than 1,000 of its civilian workers go unpaid.

"The decisions for the football team were made at very high levels of national interest," Johnson said.

At Fort Carson, Rivera said workers will feel more pain as the shutdown continues.

"The word we're getting is they're drawing down more and more," he said.

Many of those at the protest are still working, and were using their lunch hour to support colleagues who have been furloughed.

Stephanie Hooks, who is still on the job helping manage the post's child care services, said the shutdown has changed her perspective on her Defense Department job.

"It used to be you came into the job because you could depend on the federal government," she said.