Updated: Dec 29, 2018
I am not sure if the everyday American understands how the now seemingly-minuscule threat of a government shutdown effects deployed soldiers. I am certain that politicians do not weigh the despair that is ignited when deployed soldiers hear that a government shutdown is looming.
Here is first hand experience:
The beginning: Soldiers have been constantly deployed since the late nineties for…pick your reason: oil, fighting the corruption of Saddam Hussein, weapons of mass destruction, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS, terrorist networks. It has not ended.
The middle: Hundreds of thousands of Soldiers get ordered to be ripped away from their families and all comforts they know, with sometimes as little as 10 or 30 days’ notice, to deploy to a combat zone where the living quarters are at best a metal box with bunk beds and an air conditioner. I promise you we were all thankful for the air conditioner!
You are put on a plane with a bag of gear, very few personal items, and flown to a dusty, dry, dirty country that expects the United States to get them out of some mess we created for them. Calls home and internet are available, well….when available.
You learn to be absolutely comfortable wearing 30 pounds of Kevlar including a helmet and bullet proof vest as well as all the weapons and ammunition assigned to you EVERY DAY. You eat in the chow hall, well….when food is available or when the ready-to-eat meals are delivered.
You learn to make the best of being in complete controlled chaos on a base, or in a convoy, with your fellow Soldiers knowing that at any minute you could be attacked, but your instincts will kick in and you will “respond accordingly,” and on a good day, no one will die. After such incident, you will recover, go back to base, and restart the continual camaraderie of banter with your fellow Soldiers that gets you through the compartmentalization you have to master. Then, you start over tomorrow.
The end: The one thing, the one and only thing, that provides some solace or even seems like it can be a benefit to this grave sacrifice you are making, is that you get your salary and extra combat pay for when you are ordered to endure the everyday risk of losing your life. You know your family’s bills are still being paid and that the military told you they would be supported. You know that you will have funds that were impossible to spend in a combat zone and it will provide a little extra cushion…if, well, you do make it home.
However, I remember in April 2011, without being able to keep up with America’s news, receiving an email (we had internet that day) stating that a government shutdown was looming and that we would not get paid. If necessary, the government would advance us a small portion of our next paycheck and then “try” to repay us for any portion of our salary we were not given...but there was no guarantee.
The email said it was not known how long the shutdown would last. I specifically remember this part about the email…we were ORDERED to still work and serve our country and that operations would continue REGARDLESS.
I remember thinking…the only thing I had going for me was getting paid for this difficult situation. Now, we were not even going to get paid? That can’t be. How unfair? Did the non-deployed Soldiers still have to show up to work? Or did they get to sit at home until the politicians figured out how to run the country?
It was totally demoralizing and dejecting. Emotions cannot explain the sunken feeling I had with no options. I could not imagine a Soldier dying on a day when his spouse did not even receive his paycheck! It was not good. Not good at all!
The finale: There you have it. Government shutdowns have far greater consequences than I believe the nation’s residents or politicians ever acknowledge.
In April 2011, President Obama and John Boehner eventually agreed on a budget and Planned Parenthood funding to avoid a government shutdown. We got our paychecks and never missed a beat in fighting the Taliban as ordered.
I acknowledge that it is a tough business running the world’s leading nation but we have to do a better job, we have to choose civility, and we have to choose honor for all.
Help us be better!