Hundreds of local military members return to work

Springfield units hit by shutdown still not back to normal.

All but nine of Ohio’s 1,800 furloughed National Guardsmen, including more than several hundred in Springfield, were back at work this week after Defense officials over the weekend re-examined the Pay Our Military Act, signed into law on Sept. 30.

The interpretation cleared the way for most of the Pentagon’s civilian employees to report back Monday after they were sent home in droves last week because of the federal government shutdown.

“Anxiety starts to build up. We were watching the news just like everybody else, waiting for that phone call,” said Warrant Officer 1 Stephen Miller, supervisor of the Ohio Army National Guard’s Field Maintenance Shop 13 in Springfield.

Miller got that call he was waiting for, telling him he could report back to work, at 7 p.m. Sunday.

While local Army mechanics like Miller were glad Monday to be back on the job after three and a half unexpected days off last week, things aren’t remotely back to normal — a reminder of the political dysfunction in Washington.

Located near the Springfield Air National Guard Base — where upwards of 340 furloughed airmen in three units were also recalled to work — the Army Guard’s FMS 13 has 19 employees who are considered dual-status technicians. Except for four who are deployed, all were sent home last Tuesday to wait out the shutdown.

Technicians are full-time military personnel who are paid from civilian accounts, which also made them susceptible to six unpaid furlough days this past summer as part of sequestration.

Nationally, the Guard had to furlough 50,000 civilian employees last week, including 40,000 dual-status technicians. Active-duty personnel were unaffected.

“While they’re technically civilians, these are troops,” said John Goheen, spokesman for the National Guard Association of the United States.

Unlike this summer, though, it’s believed they’ll receive back pay for last week’s furloughs.

“It’s very disruptive, because it puts us behind,” said Capt. Martin Crowe, regional maintenance manager for the Ohio Army National Guard.

Between last week’s time off and this summer’s furloughs, the shop in Springfield alone is behind by 5,000 work hours, Miller said. That means a vehicle that might have been serviced or repaired and sent back to its unit within a couple of weeks will now take a couple of months, he said.

The local shop conducts unit maintenance inspections and works on everything from Humvees and five-ton trucks to Avenger missile systems — a vehicle-mounted air defense system containing eight Stinger missiles — for multiple area units.

“We’re back to work, but a lot of funding isn’t in place,” Crowe said.

The Ohio Army National Guard has 14 field maintenance shops around the state, and it was unclear Monday how soldiers might purchase last-minute repair parts or even top off trucks with fuel.

Credit cards used to purchase parts locally when needed are normally turned off at the end of each fiscal year, Crowe said, but without a budget, they’re likely to remain off.

It was also unsure if government fuel cards were working, he said.

“It’s a continuing scramble,” Crowe said. “That’s the bulk of my day right now, figuring out how we’re going to operate with no funding or minimal funding.”

The shop chief in Springfield said they should be able to get by.

“We have enough parts to sustain us until probably the end of January,” said Miller, a 19-year veteran of the Guard who resides in Dayton.

Signed into law on Saturday, the Pay Our Military Act didn’t permit a blanket recall of all civilians, but instead eliminated furloughs for employees “whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members,” according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

“Without us,” Crowe said, “none of the trucks would move.”

The Guard’s local maintenance shop also shares its facility with an Army Reserve Area Maintenance Support Activity, or AMSA, shop, which services Reserve vehicles.

The eight full-time technicians at the Springfield AMSA were furloughed, but have been called back to work as well. Like their Guard counterparts, local reservists are behind on work following this summer’s furloughs.

Some of them last week began filing for unemployment benefits in anticipation of a long shutdown.

“We still don’t know if we’re getting paid or not,” Master Sgt. Jerry Casto, a Springfield resident, said Monday. “It’s kind of hard to plan anything. Do you buy a new car today or do you wait?”

On top of the recent furloughs, they also haven’t received a raise in three years, said Sgt. 1st Class Kenny Butts, a Springfield resident.

“It sucks,” he said. “We’re just like everyone else. We’ve got house payments, car payments.”

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