By Marie BerbereaOctober 10, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Fort Sill is putting the pieces back together after Department of the Army civilians returned to work Oct. 7 here.
The group, which is part of the 800,000 furloughed, is playing catch-up after leaving work Oct 1.
To put a price on it, functions like the Fort Sill Commissary, lost approximately $459,000 during the shutdown.
With the short notice, commissary employees removed produce that had an approaching expiration date, and two civilians checked the temperature of the coolers every day to make sure nothing spoiled during their absence.
When the government shut down, Solange Gates, commissary deputy store director, said they sold out of items like milk, eggs and meat. Customers tried to get their last minute shopping in which created long lines and many eventually abandoned their shopping carts.
"When we closed the store we gathered 30 shopping carts with merchandise inside. So we spent the rest of the evening putting the merchandise away," said Gates.
The store returned to normal operating hours and was fully stocked Oct. 9.
The commissary was just one Fort Sill function that faced unique challenges. Many had to try to accomplish their mission with a drastically reduced staff and in some cases Soldiers did their best to cover down on day-to-day duties until the civilians were allowed to return.
"[Civilians] are our continuity in the office so not having them was truly an impact," said Capt. Roydrego Lavant, 428th Fires Brigade personnel officer. "They are pretty much the subject matter experts in those particular areas. We actually had to sit down with them and try to learn what they do in two or three hours, in something they've been doing for years."
At many facilities, Soldiers welcomed back their civilian counterparts Monday morning and together did their best to make up for lost time.
"I will tell you we have a pretty professional workforce here. And, they are flat-out dedicated. Conversations I had with people who were furloughed, friends of mine and co-workers, said 'I'm ready to come back to work, even after three and a half days I am ready to get back to work.' I'll tell you everybody was anxious to have them back," said Mike Dooley, deputy to the 428th Field Artillery Brigade commander.
Essential training on Fort Sill has continued unimpeded during the shutdown and most civilians who support that function remained at work. That training included Basic Combat Training, Advanced Individual Training, the Basic Officer Leader Course and the Warrant Officer Basic Course.
"That makes up 85 percent or more of what we do here in the 428th FA Brigade," said Dooley.
He and Col. Gene Meredith, 428th FA Brigade commander, were told to be very prudent when considering which civilians would be allowed to continue to work to support Soldiers. That being said, 48 percent of their civilian workforce was still sent home.
"I will never, ever use the words nonessential, because everyone is essential, but we had to do that based on guidance," said Dooley.
As the lack of a budget continues, funding for TDY and professional military education is put on hold. So while civilians are returning to work, in the coming weeks courses like the Master Gunner, Cannon Maintenance and Pre-Command courses will be affected.
Also, all community outreach initiatives including tours, performances by the 77th Army Band and the Field Artillery Half Section off-post are being canceled or declined.