LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Roger Conrad, who spent 26 years in the United States Coast Guard, sat in his living room Thursday night holding one half of a broken promise. In addition to delaying paychecks for 800,000 federal workers, the nation’s longest-ever government shutdown had begun to threaten the monthly retirement checks on which many former service members like him rely.
“We fulfilled our obligations,” he said. “For me, it was 26 years of service, and I don’t feel like we’re getting that back in return right now.”
The job Conrad has now — performing demonstrations for a grill company — is less dangerous than the time he spent rescuing distressed boaters and interrupting maritime drug deals, but it’s also less lucrative.
The prospect of missing the scheduled Jan. 31 payment that rounds out his income has spurred him to take on extra hours and work overtime in anticipation of a keen shortfall.
Things are worse for active-duty members, he added. By the start of February, Conrad will have missed one payment. He won’t be happy, but he has a contingency fund that can carry him through a few lean months.
Thousands of working Coast Guard men and women, many living paycheck-to-paycheck and supporting families, will have missed two.
“They’re just wondering how they’re going to make ends meet,” he said of the junior members to whom he had recently spoken. “That’s not good when you’re trying to perform a mission. You need to be laser-focused. Just the thought of whether or not you’re going to be able to pay your bills and feed your family — I can’t image what they’re feeling right now.”
Coast Guard leader Commandant Adm. Karl L. Schultz condemned the shutdown more harshly in a video he tweeted out Tuesday.
“Ultimately, I find it unacceptable that Coast Guard men and women have to rely on food pantries and donations to get through day-to-day life as service members,” he said.
Your Coast Guard leadership team & the American people stand in awe of your continued dedication to duty, resilience, & that of your families. I find it unacceptable that @USCG members must rely on food pantries & donations to get through day-to-day life. #uscg pic.twitter.com/TZ9ppUidyO
— Admiral Karl Schultz (@ComdtUSCG) January 23, 2019
He also praised service members who continued to work despite their financial uncertainty.
"Continue to stand tall," he told them. "Your dedication, resilience, to this adversity defines the absolute best of our nation."
Two plans to reopen the government failed Thursday on the Senate floor. CNN reported President Donald Trump had begun to draft a declaration of emergency to free up funds for the project that started the shutdown Dec. 28, 2018: A wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Congress may reach an agreement in the future. The president may issue the declaration when it is finished.
Either way, Coast Guard members will have to stay resilient a while longer.