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Deciphering the personnel challenges during furlough

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Airmen shook off their civilian identities and reported for drill at the 139th Airlift Wing Nov. 2. It was a different story during the government shut down in October.

The 1,100 Airmen who serve the state and nation were ordered to stay home. While the shutdown seemed relatively straight forward in its effects on civilian agencies and active duty military, National Guard units were a different, more complicated story.

Four major categories of personnel serve at the 139th: federal civilian employees (technicians), active guard reservists (AGR), traditional guardsmen and state employees. The AGRs were largely unaffected. Under the Pay Our Military Act, they reported to duty during the shutdown. The technicians were more complicated.

Even though they wear the uniform every day and have corresponding military positions, nobody knew if the Pay Our Military Act covered them. After initially being furloughed along with the civilian workforce, they were called back to work and deemed essential. It took four days of furlough to make that determination.

State employees fell through the crack when the government shut down. Even though they are state employees, only 25% of their salary is funded by the state, the additional 75% is covered by the federal government.

This was an especially stressful time for the state employees because they were furloughed for the entire three weeks of the shutdown, says the 139th Comptroller Flight Commander Lt. Col. James Treu.

"State employees ended up with back pay and should be treated exactly the same as federal employees, so we called them back as soon as the continuing resolution was passed," said Treu.

For the traditional guardsmen, October drill was cancelled. Now that the government has reopened, commanders have the discretion to reschedule October drill for their Airmen.

"We support our full-time and traditional Airmen at the 139th. We have a robust family support program and offer financial planning assistance through multiple outlets, including financial planners and even the Dave Ramsey course," said Col. Ralph Schwader, 139th Airlift Wing vice commander.

The major impact for the 139th was pushing back training and mission requirements for a month. November drill was a scramble to catch up, reach requirements and sort out pay, said Schwader. Even with the need to catch up, the 139th maintained operational readiness and met essential mission requirements.

During the shutdown, operations were limited to accepted activities and support of international agreements. Treu says they were essentially writing IOUs to partners until the government reopened.

"An extended shutdown could affect readiness, but that was not the case this time and the 139th is committed to accomplishing its mission under any circumstances," Schwader said.

Treu says the 139th handled the ambiguity of the shut down quite well by using their most valuable assets: dedicated Airmen, effective leadership, a proactive mindset and transparent communication.