When the worst was raging a few weeks ago in Tuolumne County, the California National Guard was there to drop water where firefighters couldn’t.
The force was mission essential as the Rim Fire ravaged part of the state, but suddenly, not so much as the Department of Defense negotiates the current government shutdown.
“I would say we have roughly 5,000 to 6,000 full-time, so basically one-third of our full-time force was sent home yesterday,” said Lt. Col. Tom Keegan with the California National Guard.
Congress passed the ‘Pay Our Military Act” to ensure cash flow to those who serve and protect in the face of this shutdown, but Keegan says it’s really become the “pay some of our military act.”
The guardsmen who commit to weekend drills, and a significant number of full-timers listed by the DOD as non-essential, aren’t getting paid.
“For us to be able to sustain operations, support the fleet, have those aircraft ready to go at a moment’s notice … they’re absolutely critical,” said Keegan.
A Guard full-timer since 1990, Sergeant Major Robert Matey is now one of the two highest-ranking enlisted men in the California National Guard.
Having worked his way up, he knows how this will hurt.
“Especially in the economy that we’re in right now, National Guard soldiers depend on that money to feed their families, make their car payments, make their house payments,” said Sgt. Major Robert Matey.
With that kind of pain in the offing for dedicated guardsmen, California’s Adjutant General fired off a memo about the situation.
He posted it to the force’s Facebook page, calling the DOD’s payroll cherry-picking quote “clear prejudice against the National Guard.”
The posting also calls on the public to contact and demand change from their senators and representatives in Congress.
Meanwhile, with red flag fire warnings already posted for the rest of this week, the Guard minus its technicians won’t be as prepared as it should be.
“A lot of our logistical support, air craft maintenance support and the backbone of our operational support will be missing,” said Keegan.
Staff and equipment are being moved around to cover holes left by the shutdown.
The Adjutant General is working the phone lines to Washington hoping the DOD will admit this is not what Congress intended, but no change yet.
This weekend Sacramento’s Okinawa Armory was set to host 400 guardsmen for training.
Instead it will be empty this weekend thanks to the shutdown – right along with the wallets of many of those who serve.