Shutdown Leaves U.S. Coast Guard Adrift

By now, about a month into the federal government (partial) shutdown, most of you know (and for those who don’t) that the great men and women of America’s Coast Guard have not received a pay check since the government shutdown began!

Although the Coast Guard is proudly one of America’s five military branches, it is not under the Department of Defense umbrella.  It is under the Department of Home Land Security.  Active-duty members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines are being paid, just like normal.  As they should.  Talk about “essential personnel”!  Essential, and vitally so, to the security, and defense of America.

But here’s the rub, the huge unfairness.  Our Coast Guard men and women, are very definitely “essential personnel”, particularly when you are in need of rescue, and are not being paid right now, and haven’t been since the shutdown.  Similar to, for instance, some other DHS employees, TSA persons, for instance, also not being paid, but strangely, a number of them, working inside, and out of the weather, have suddenly come down with what must be widely contagious illnesses, since many of them, from all around the country, are presumably at home in bed, feeling miserable, with no choice but to call in sick.  Wishing them a speedy recovery.  Attention: CDC!

Here’s the glaring difference.  All Coast Guard personnel, unpaid now for several weeks, with no immediate end in sight, are all healthy!  No sick calls here.  America’s “Coasties” are, today, tomorrow, and every day, dedicated and on-duty all across the nation, as well as deployed to distant waterways around the world.  In the air and on the water, these hard-working, courageous Americans continue to answer the call, whether it’s a rescue helicopter air-lifting a seriously ill or injured fishing vessel or commercial ship crew member, or flying a cruise ship passenger to medical assistance on shore.  Or perhaps checking the cargo on a foreign-registered container ship before off-loading here, or working at sea to prevent drug shipments from reaching our East Coast.  Whatever the emergency, the law enforcement-assisting mission, ship inspections, or containing an environmental mishap on the water, your Coast Guard continues to respond to every inquiry and trouble call, every day.

Regardless of day or night, federal holidays, high winds, heavy rain, or turbulent seas, regardless of the danger, when our citizens are missing or in distress on the water, the Coast Guard launches rescue help, anytime, anywhere.  And that’s because of their heartfelt motto: “Semper Paratus:” Always Ready.  Not sometimes ready.  Always!

And that’s why, Since they are incredibly essential federal personnel, it is so profoundly unfair that these dedicated Coast Guard men and women are not being paid, all the while continuing their dedicated duty to save lives and property on the water, both here and wherever they are deployed, and needed, around the nation, and around the world.

Those that this lack of a pay check hit and hurt the most are the Coast Guard families, wondering where the needed household expense money’s going to come from.  According to Coast Guard research, it’s estimated that 31% of active- duty “Coasties” do not have enough money in emergency savings to cover even one-month’s expenses.  And before you begin judging their saving and budgeting. Please do realize that newer, young, enlisted members are not making a ton of money.  Especially vulnerable are those with a spouse and young children.

So what can you do to assist?  Fortunately, Coast Guard communities around the country have rallied with food banks/pantries (we’re fortunate to have a large, well-stocked one right here on Savannah’s east-side), with gift cards for essentials and gas for vehicles, and with restaurants who are offering reduced rate and/or free meals for Coast Guard families.  And, thankfully, some benevolent financial organizations have stepped up to offer interest-free loans, without expecting repayment until their pay checks are flowing again.

But even more financial help is needed and deeply appreciated, by way primarily, of gift cards.  Donations for such can be funneled, in the Savannah area, through  USO-Savannah, the Savannah Navy League, the Red Cross, the Chatham County Veterans Council, and likely many other organizations and houses of worship.  And the great Landings Fund, dedicated to military assistance, particularly for families while a service member is deployed, is also actively involved with this relief effort.

The other thing you can do, now, is to write or call your House member and Senators.  Urge them, strongly, to break the log-jam, with Congressional authorization for Coast Guard pay, NOW.  Government shutdown or not, our Coast Guardsmen (and their families), continuing their essential service of saving lives, 24-7, deserve to be paid, and paid now!  It is the only fair and decent thing for America to do.  Taking proper care of those who take care of us, when lives are at stake on the water, anywhere, anytime.