National Guardsmen Suffer After Government Shutdown - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

National Guardsmen Suffer After Government Shutdown

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DELAWARE - There are nearly 3,000 members of the Delaware National Guard, and just about 2,000 of them are not at work this week due to the government shutdown. But it's not just the temporary furloughs hurting the guardsmen. The shutdown has put an end to many training programs as well, and in doing so has put people out of work.

In order to go to these training sessions, these part-time officers need to sacrifice months at a time, and this sudden cancellation has left many of them without a job and without a plan for the next two months.

Keith Watson was one of those guardsman, who was planning to become a Warrant Officer in honor of his grandfather. Nicholas T. Paul, his grandfather was a member of the military for many years, and even fought in World War Two.

"He's what spurred my interest originally," he said. "And definitely inspired me to be a warrant officer."

When his grandfather passed away, he began his mission to join this section of the national guard. He quit his job, and at 44 years old, was one of the oldest members at Warrant Officer Candidate School. He said this program was a difficult boot camp, but in the end he made it through.

The next step was a Warrant officer Basic Course, which he was scheduled to begin this week in Virginia. But just two days before he was meant to leave, he got a call saying that due to the government shutdown, the training was canceled.

"This can't happen to soldiers and their families," he said. "It just can't. You can't make the decision to serve - to uproot your life. To go and just resign from your job... And have this happen."

Watson is now unemployed, and said he feels like he is in limbo, as the government sorts out the funding. But even when it's resolved, there's no guarantee he will still have a spot in the program. He also doesn't know if he will be able to take two months off again since he is already in his mid-40s.

The national guard has approximately 2,700 members in Delaware. 750 of these members are full-time employees. Originally 369 of these employees were furloughed, but all, except 34 were brought back to work this week.

Meanwhile, there are just about 1,950 part-time traditional guardsmen. All of these guardsmen are currently on furlough status. These part-time guardsmen typically need to meet one weekend per month for training, but due to the lack of funding, their October training has already been canceled.

"The expectation can't be that me as a citizen soldier should suddenly go find a way to pay your mortgage," Watson said. "They can't just say 'We're broke.' And the people that are telling me their broke are getting paid." 

Watson said this is a bigger issue than just one that affects him. He said it indicates a lack of readiness of the National Guard. Funding for the National Guard is 95 percent federal, and only five percent by the state.

"The army cannot function without the Army National Guard or the Air National Guard," he said. "The military cannot function without us. Over a quarter million guardsman serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. But we seem to be the low hanging fruit and the forgotten very quickly. And the concern is we'll go Farrell very quickly."

For now Watson unpacks his bags and waits unsure about when he'll get to honor his grandfather's legacy.

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