Central Delaware
Government shutdown: Dover base furloughs 500 civilian employees
Tech. Sgt. Crystal Mallory sits at her Dover Air Force Base desk Tuesday after learning that student assistance tuition for her final semester of a nursing program is in jeopardy until the federal government resumes in full. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

DOVER — Beginning with the overnight shifts arriving after the 12:01 a.m. announcement of a partial federal government shutdown Tuesday, 500 civilian employees received notice that they had been furloughed from duty at Dover Air Force Base.

Just more than half the DAFB civilian staff was furloughed, though 436th Airlift Wing commander Col. Rick Moore said that number could fluctuate up or down depending on analysis of essential needs to conduct critical base business.

The news among Delaware National Guard members was similarly grim, with approximately 350 federal technicians among an overall force of roughly 750 full-timers sent home at 11 a.m., spokesman Lt. Col. Len Gratteri said. The soldiers and airmen reported to work at 7 a.m. and spent four hours on duty before departing.

“Of course this has a negative impact on morale — it is magnified when you account for the furloughs we just experienced the past three months,” Lt. Col. Gratteri said via email.

Approximately 300 DNG members remained, and Lt. Col. Gratteri said “all operations have been significantly disrupted. However — we can and will continue to support all key military operations for the state and federal government.”

Col. Moore struck a similar somber tone when speaking to the media in the afternoon.

“Our civilian work force is strongly frustrated,” he said. “There has been a significant drain on morale for everyone here.

“There is not an exit strategy (from the White House and Congress) and it’s unknown what the eventual impact will be.”

Just over 13 hours into the force reduction, the commander said DAFB would continue to support all wartime operations, though funding sources would run thin in approximately a week before support alternatives would be needed.

Daily routines were interrupted on the first day, and more changes were upcoming.

A steady stream of patrons with full carts moved out of the base commissary in the hours before an indefinite 7 p.m. closure, and several declined comment on the situation. At least three patrons approached the library within five minutes before reading a sign notifying of the closure.

By late Monday afternoon, Col. Moore said he believed a partial shutdown was coming, based on at least six updates from Air Mobility Command in St. Louis. Constant communications continued on Tuesday as a new normal began to settle in.

The colonel said the base’s ability to turn out maintenance of United States Air Force C-17 and C-5 aircraft would be slowed anywhere from 2 to 10 percent, though flying and wartime operations conducted via the base were ongoing.

“Everyone has spent so much time on logistics that we haven’t thought about much else,” he said.

Veteran Dave Skocik was at the base Tuesday morning to shop at the commissary and said traffic and commerce appeared to be proceeding at a normal pace.

A prolonged furlough could begin to have a cumulative effect on and off the base, said the Delaware Veterans Coalition president.

“Even a temporary loss of services clearly has an impact on the base, the local community, the economy,” Mr. Skocik said.

“Regardless of who is working, whether for the federal government or private business, there’s going to be a higher level of insecurity when you have people who are not coming to work, and it doesn’t make for a stable environment.”

‘A little odd’

Tech. Sgt. Crystal Mallory was fretting that tuition assistance via Air Force benefits could be pulled before her final semester begins in January; she’s nearing a Registered Nurse certification and need one more session of clinical work to graduate from Delaware Technical Community College.

“My stress level is very high, but I still have a job to come to,” Sgt. Mallory said.

“When I think about not getting paid daily, my worries are all put into perspective.

“I’m worried more for a lot of civilians who work here and all the uncertainty they face.

“They’re not here, and it’s a little odd and awkward today.”

On the day before appropriations were shut off, the Department of Defense issued an eight-page document to commanders on how to conduct matters from personnel, to contracts and medical concerns, the American Forces Press Service reported.

The DNG was already strained by recent administrative furloughs but “would continue to support key military operations both here in the state and overseas,” according to a press release.

“A shutdown of any length of time degrades readiness, but my immediate concern is for the 400 Soldiers and Airmen and their families who were essentially unemployed today,” said Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala, Delaware’s Adjutant General.

“Making it worse is this shutdown comes on the heels of them being furloughed during the period of July through September as a result of sequestration. This will pose a significant challenge on numerous fronts.”

Lt. Col. Gratteri said military funeral honors would still take place, though federal technicians would not provide services due to furloughs.

The DNG has been in constant communication with national entities since last week as a possible shutdown approached.

“There are numerous questions involved and we have been in constant communication with the National Guard Bureau since last week,” Lt. Col. Gratteri said.

“We will remain in constant contact until all of our questions have been answered, all of our soldiers and airmen taken care of, and the shutdown ends.”

Staff writer Craig Anderson can be reached at 741-8296 or Follow @DSNAnderson on Twitter.