Offutt Air Force Base bustling, despite partial government shutdown - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 12:21 pm
Offutt Air Force Base bustling, despite partial government shutdown

For a community on the verge of a partial shutdown, Offutt Air Force Base was a mighty busy place Tuesday.

Some 2,000 civilian employees at Offutt received indefinite furlough notices. They spent most of the morning packing up for an unpaid vacation that could end tomorrow — or last much longer.

Another 1,000 civilians are “excepted,” which means their jobs are essential to national security. Firefighters, daycare workers and medical staff will stay on the job and will be paid.

About 7,000 active-duty service members will report as usual Wednesday. Their pay will continue under the terms of legislation passed late Monday and signed into law by the president in a rare moment of bipartisan agreement.

“My concern goes to our civilian airmen and their families,” said Col. Gregory Guillot, the 55th Wing commander, during a press conference Tuesday. “We're trying to support them as best we can.”

He said that the 55th Wing's aircraft will continue to fly national security missions but that some training has been postponed.

“For the short term, we can complete our mission,” Guillot said. “We have a good plan through the end of the week.”

Across the base, crowds packed the Offutt commissary all day long. Beginning Wednesday, the store will stay closed until the shutdown ends.

“It's almost like preparing for a storm,” said Kevin Robinson, a spokesman for the Defense Commissary Agency in Fort Lee, Va. “You get the report, and you go to the store.”

He said commissary managers hoped to unload as much perishable meat and produce as possible.

“I think everyone who heard about it took advantage of the opportunity,” said Senior Airman Eric Plants, 24, who was shopping with his wife, Jessica.

Tom and Deb Dugdale of Omaha showed up for their usual weekend shopping trip, not knowing that this could be their last chance for a while.

“We said, 'What's going on? Why is it so busy?” said Tom Dugdale, who served 22 years in the Army and Coast Guard.

Both were livid that Congress failed to avoid the partial shutdown.

“It's totally unacceptable. The House and Senate shouldn't get paid until they solve this,” Deb Dugdale said. “You can rest assured this will affect my vote.”

As she shopped, Gulf War veteran Denice Ellington thought about the commissary workers.

“I'm not worried about the food, it's the people,” said Ellington, 55, of Omaha. “There's a lot of people not coming to work tomorrow.”

One of them is Marina Duley, 50, of Bellevue. She is a widow, supporting three children on the tips she earns bagging groceries and carrying them to customers' cars. Commissary baggers receive no salary.

“It's stressing me out,” Duley said. “This is my only job. I'm kind of worried financially.”

The shutdown also locks out about 560 federal “technicians” who work on Nebraska National Guard bases across the state. That's about half of the Guard's full-time work force.

Most of them are uniformed Guardsmen who perform a wide variety of administrative, maintenance, operations and training functions, said Terri Kattes, a Guard spokeswoman.

About 70 state employees of the Guard who are paid fully or partially with federal funds also are being furloughed.

Kattes said all Guard facilities will remain open, many with minimal staffing to provide only essential services.

No weekend drills have so far been postponed, she said, but all nonessential travel has been canceled.

For the moment, Nebraskans who draw federal paychecks are looking toward Washington D.C., where only Congress can resolve the deadlock.

“Everybody's kind of got their fingers crossed that this will be short,” Robinson said. “If it goes on for a while, then we'll have to decide what to do.”

Government shutdown: What's open, what's closed and more

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that "excepted" civilian workers would be working without paychecks.

Contact the writer: Steve Liewer

steve.liewer@owh.com    |   402-444-1186

Steve is the military affairs reporter for The World-Herald.

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