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Shutdown furloughs hundreds of NE FL National Guardsmen

Shutdown furloughs hundreds of NE FL National Guardsmen

Shutdown furloughs hundreds of NE FL National Guardsmen
Photo Credit: Florida National Guard
Florida National Guard ceremony at the St. Francis Barracks in St. Augustine.

Shutdown furloughs hundreds of NE FL National Guardsmen

More than 700 Northeast Florida families are facing furloughs once again.

Florida’s National Guard has furloughed more than 1,000 full-time federal employees across the state, the majority of who are based in either Camp Blanding, St. Augustine or Jacksonville.  Lieutenant Colonel James Evans, with the Public Affairs Office, says 12,000 full- and part-time employees who also conduct routine paid training on the weekends have been told that many of the immediate trainings- including one scheduled this weekend- will not happen.

This is all a result of the federal government partial shutdown.

“It’s a growing impact day-by-day,” Evans says.

That impact has a wide reaching effect both in immediate preparedness and future needs.

Families facing furloughs, again

“You go to work every day for ten years like I’ve been doing here at the Guard, and knowing that I can’t go in to help our agency and everything I’ve given I can’t give on that day… it’s a little bit tough,” says Master Sergeant Thomas Kielbasa.

Kielbasa is furloughed now because of the shutdown and was furloughed just a few months ago as a result of sequestration.

“Right now, it’s only been a few days so there’s really been no affect other than I’m home, and I’m not working, and I know the work is piling up,” Kielbasa says.

He tells me there’s no serious impact on him financially just a few days in to the shutdown, but if this drags on he’s not ruling out other options to bring money in for his family.

“I’m pretty sure everybody right now is hoping for the same thing, that this gets dealt with quickly,” he says.

Evans tells me Kielbasa is far from the only person who has been furloughed once again.  In addition to that, he says statewide, some 12,000 workers are also losing the money from weekend trainings which have been called off.

“That’s generally part of people’s income,” he says.

Tropical Storm Karen

Evans says they were already feeling the furlough as the Florida National Guard began to prepare for Tropical Storm Karen, which is expected to hit the Panhandle.

He tells me during a normal year, they would have already been performing inspections, maintenance and readiness work in order to be ready to immediately assist affected areas.

“We have half the force that’s available to maintain and get the equipment ready,” Evans says.

Instead, most of the work has been focused on getting the people responsible for that back to work.  Evans says they first started trying to get furlough exemptions for roughly ten planners to bring them back to work, and were considering dozens more in potential areas of impact.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has now activated the Florida National Guard as part of an “Emergency Tropical Storm Declaration”. That will use state funding and allow the Guard to begin to with more staff made available.

 “It’s not a question of it we’ll be able to do it [respond to Karen]- we will. It just makes it more difficult when you have to go ask for exemption and you have to wait to get the approvals in place to make sure you’re doing everything in accordance with the law,” he says.

Evans says all the Guardsmen know what they need to do, so when they’re allowed back on the job they’ll act quickly. 

Long term fallout

“We were really hoping for the best, that it wouldn’t come to this,” Kielbasa says.

Calling off the weekend trainings poses a potential risk for the Guard’s preparedness and ability to pick up normal operations quickly once the furloughs are lifted.

“May not be evident in a week or so, but if it continues, you kind of build this stockpile of requirements that aren’t being met,” Evans says.

From a training aspect, that includes basic requirements like flight hours. Evans says they have a flight crew which needs to log some hours in the air within the next two weeks, or risk becoming non-current and needing retraining in order to conduct federal missions.

There are administrative tie-ups as well, employees needing flu shots, medical exams or other similar events which are not being performed at this time.

“Because they don’t have that done, then they’re no longer deployable,” he says.

He says the long terms impact of this shutdown cannot just be fixed overnight, but the sooner Congress acts on a budget, the easier the transition will be.

Potential fix could be coming

On Thursday, the House of Representatives approved a pair of bills that restore funding to some areas of the government currently shut down, including the National Guard. Evans says the action would allow the furloughed workers to return to business, although he wasn’t sure whether trainings and other administrative activity would resume.

For Kielbasa, that can’t come soon enough.

“We’re in uniform, so we serve. It feels like I’m not able to go out and serve right now,” he says.

The bills still have to pass through the Senate and get signed by the President.

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