Maine National Guard employees feel the pressure of the shutdown

By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff
Posted Oct. 03, 2013, at 12:56 p.m.

DEDHAM, Maine — Christien Dearborn is frustrated.

The full-time aircraft mechanic with the 101st Air Refueling Wing based in Bangor is one of 406 Maine Army and Air National Guard employees furloughed Tuesday because of the federal government shutdown.

“I have a wife, two kids, a mortgage to pay, and a car payment and I don’t have a paycheck to pay them with,” Dearborn, 32, said Thursday. “There is no timetable for when it’s going to be over, so the uncertainty is the biggest stressor to me.”

The federal civilian technician who lives with his family in Dedham added, “I can’t go out and get another job because technically I have a job.”

There is frustration throughout the ranks of the 101st, known as the MAINEiacs, because the tanker unit is very busy, Dearborn said.

“We offload more gas at the 101st than many of our active duty counterparts,” said Dearborn, who in addition to his civilian job on the base has also served as a member of the guard for 13 years. “Our active duty counterparts [are still at work]. We do the same thing at the 101st but we’re not active duty.”

The shutdown has not grounded the flying tankers of the 101st. They are still at work keeping military planes flying to and from Europe, Maj. Michael Steinbuchel, public affairs officer for both branches of the Maine National Guard, said Thursday. But the reduction in personnel is having an effect on other duties.

“They are still conducting their operational missions … that is still functioning,” Steinbuchel said. “The schedule of flights coming in and out have been scheduled months in advance.

“What isn’t happening because of the furlough is we’re not doing any training and additional long-term maintenance,” Steinbuchel said. “Those are some of the things we put on the back burner.”

The 101st isn’t alone in scaling back amid the shutdown.

Upcoming weekend drills for both the Maine Army and Air National Guard have been postponed because of the furlough, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mark Houdlette of the Maine Army National Guard said Thursday in an email interview.

“The drill weekend that was to be held October 5-6, 2013, has been postponed,” the Army Guard member said. “A tentative date to make up this drill weekend has not been established.”

Sunday’s Freedom Salute for the 488th Military Police Company that returned from Afghanistan in mid-July will still take place in Augusta, and four personnel from the 121st Public Affairs Detachment will be working to cover the event.

Although the Air Guard drill weekend has been postponed, some who are scheduled to deploy in the near future will be at work, Houdlette said.

“There will be pockets of drilling guardsmen working this weekend to support upcoming mobilizations-deployments within the Maine Air National Guard,” he said.

The breakdown of furloughed employees is 222 in the Maine Army National Guard and 184 in the Air guard, according to Peter Rogers, spokesman for the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans, and Emergency Management. The employees are stationed around Maine but most of the affected workers are from Camp Keyes in Augusta, and Bangor’s Maine Air National Guard base and the Armed Forces Reserve Center.

Brewer Mayor Kevin O’Connell, who spent 24 years in the 101st Air Refueling Wing and retired in February 2011 as a master sergeant, said Thursday that his friends in the Guard are frustrated.

“They’re all [complaining] on Facebook — they’re all [complaining] hard,” he said. “I’m still friends with a lot of them. They’re telling Congress to get their heads out of their [buttocks].

“The biggest thing I heard was frustration,” he said. “Everybody is frustrated and it’s affecting their wallets.”

Weekend drills are important for two major reasons, O’Connell said.

“A — you need the training, and B — everybody counts on that paycheck,” said the Air Guard retiree, who was bringing home a $400 to $500 paycheck monthly at the end of his military career.

Even though he’s retired, the furlough is still an issue because all of the military commissaries are closed, including the one in Bangor.

“Do you know how many people shop at the commissaries? All the retired people,” O’Connell said. “It’s cheap and it can save you a lot of money. Whenever I go in there, it’s 90 percent retirees.

“There is a domino-trickle down effect,” O’Connell said of the federal shutdown.

Dearborn said that he and his co-workers are worried about finances.

“People are definitely feeling the pressure,” the airman said. “If you live paycheck to paycheck, you’re really in a hard spot and if you don’t, you’re still in a hard spot because [savings] run out.”

The biggest frustration, he said, is that infighting in Congress is the reason he was sent home earlier this week.

“I can’t do my job because they haven’t done theirs,” Dearborn said.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/10/03/politics/federal-furlough-causes-maine-army-and-air-guard-to-postpone-weekend-drills/ printed on August 22, 2014