Mattis Tells Troops to “Hold the Line” During Government Shutdown

Air Force leaders are urging airmen to remain patient as Congress works to reach an agreement that gets the government running again. In the meantime, Active Duty personnel, reservists on federal status, and excepted civilians will report to duty as usual. All other civilians are furloughed. DOD graphic.

The federal government shut down at midnight on Friday, but the Defense Department will continue to defend the nation, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wrote in a memo to troops.

“We will continue to execute daily operations around the world—ships and submarines will remain at sea, our aircraft will continue to fly, and our warfighters will continue to pursue terrorists throughout the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia,” wrote Mattis.

Although he said “training for reservists must be curtailed,” Active Duty forces will continue to report to duty. Mattis told troops to “hold the line” and “stay alert,” during the shutdown while offering his “personal commitment that the department’s leadership will do our best to mitigate the impacts of the disruptions and any financial burdens to you and your families.”

A separate memo by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan released Thursday, included a 12-page attachment providing instructions for continuation of essential operations in case the funds ran out. The department, said Shanahan, “will, of course, continue to prosecute the war in Afghanistan and the ongoing operations against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, including preparation of forces for deployment into those conflicts.” It must also continue many other operations “necessary for the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

Other than these “excepted” activities, all other activities must be shut down, including most temporary duty travel, according to the Shanahan memo.

Active Duty personnel, including “reservists on federal status,” will continue to report as usual, regardless of whether they are affiliated with excepted or unexcepted functions, according to a memo from Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein. However, “Military personnel will not be paid until such time as Congress makes appropriated funds available to compensate them for this period of service,” according to Shanahan. Civilian personnel who are needed to carry out or support excepted activities also will continue in normal duty status but they, too, will not be paid until Congress appropriates funds.

“Unfortunately, the shutdown requires we furlough all non-excepted civilian personnel until we receive an appropriation. This requirement is no reflection on how important you are to our team. We simply have no choice under the law,” wrote Wilson and Goldfein. “If you are not involved in excepted activities, you should still report as normal on your first scheduled workday after the shutdown. You will have paid time to conduct an orderly shutdown.”

Those who may be affected by the shutdown are encouraged to talk to their supervisors.

“We are concerned about all of you who are affected by this action. We have asked commanders and supervisors to talk to every one of you directly to ensure you have all the information and support we can provide. We want to make this as painless as possible, consistent with the law,” wrote Wilson and Goldfein.

Members of Congress worked through the weekend but as of press time had failed to reach agreement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promised a vote by 1 a.m. on Monday on a short-term bill that would fund the government through Feb. 8, putting federal employees back to work and giving Congress a few more days to strike a deal.

“If this vote gets us a continuing resolution, it means a lot of our bases and folks will be back to ops normal tomorrow,” wrote CMSAF Kaleth Wright in a Facebook post on Sunday. “But that timeline—if it comes to fruition—is still disruptive for many right now as we had people scheduled to travel today, start classes, and TDY [temporary duty assignments] tomorrow, etc.”

House speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday that the House, which already has passed a continuing resolution to keep the government open through Feb. 16, would support the bill, reported The Hill.

“Senate Republicans remain ready and eager to end this manufactured crisis. This is not a crisis—it’s a manufactured crisis,” said McConnell on the House floor on Saturday. “We voted to avoid it [the shutdown] entirely in our bipartisan vote last night. We are ready to vote again. All the country needs is for the Democratic Leader to withdraw his filibuster and let a bipartisan majority pass this bill and reopen the United States government.

Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) said President Trump agreed on Friday to four- or five-day continuing resolution, noting he had put the wall on the table for discussion. But Trump changed his mind a couple hours later.

“Negotiating with this White House is like negotiating with Jello. It’s next to impossible,” Schumer said on Saturday on This Week on ABC. “As soon as you take one step forward, the hard right forces the President three steps back.”

Before the shutdown took effect, Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, introduced legislation aimed at ensuring military service members continue to receive pay and related compensation if a deal could not be reached before funding expired. The bill would also help ensure civilian Pentagon employees who provide support for the military can report to work and be paid, as well as providing for death benefits for the families of service members killed overseas.

In his Facebook post, Wright thanked airmen for their support and leadership. He noted his annoyance and frustration by the “disorganization and confusion,” but he also tried to put things in perspective by remembering the airmen serving down range.

“So here’s what I’ll ask for from you—patience?. No one asked for this, no one wanted this, and none of us is enjoying this. Every person you come into contact with from the time we shutdown until we’re fully back to normal is doing the best they can,” wrote Wright. “The information doesn’t flow as fast as we’d like, the processes aren’t as smooth as we’d like, and there will probably be some confusion as we all work through who and what is excepted and how to best carry out the guidance our elective officials handed own.”