Government
9:35 pm
Tue October 1, 2013

Shutdown Hits America’s First Line of Attack, Whiteman AFB

The government shutdown forced hundreds of thousands of civilian employees to go home early Tuesday, including thousands in the military installations around Kansas City. Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley in central Kan., and Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster, Mo., all furloughed technicians and workers. 

Shutdown expected to take toll on Whiteman

At Whiteman Air Force Base, B-2 stealth bombers based here soar like giant evil bats over the facility almost every day.

Capt. John Severns, the Chief of Public Affairs at Whiteman, says these 20-year-old airplanes can still evade enemy radar to strike air defense targets anywhere in the world. But while America’s enemies can’t seem to touch B-2 bombers, the shutdown will take a toll on their base.

"We are going to see impacts all across base, as a result of the government shutdown," says Severns.

At least 500 civilians have been furloughed at Whiteman, he says, including about 230 National Guard technicians. Some of them maintain those stealth bombers, which cost about $2.2 billion each.

"We are going to be losing some of our maintainers, some of (our) munitions folk, people we rely on a day-to- day basis to conduct this mission," says Severns. 

From one furlough to the next

Many of these employees are just coming off unpaid leave forced on them by the sequester. Joe Joyner, Chief of Asset Management at Whiteman, is one of them.

"We’ve already gone through 6 days of unpaid furlough in the last few months," says Joyner. "Here we are in the same situation again. The only difference is, now we don’t know how long it’s going to be. So, it’s just causing a lot of stress."

All the civilians in Joyner’s department are furloughed. He says that hits military families, especially those planning to move onto the base when their civilian apartment leases expired at the end of September.

"It will immediately affect families that were expecting to be moving into housing this week. That’s the kind of thing we’re seeing," Joyner says.

Impact felt on base and in town

The effects of the shutdown spread across Whiteman on Tuesday. Crowds descended like hurricane refugees after word got out that the base grocery store was closing, indefinitely.

Kayla Gaurholz stood with a packed cart in a checkout line snaking to the back of the store.

"Yes, it’s not that much fun to stand in, but the inconvenience of the store closing, and we don’t have it for God knows how long. We need to get in here and get out as fast as we can," Gaurholz says. "It’s not the nicest situation.”

People in Knob Noster, Mo., the little town jammed up against Whiteman, aren’t happy either. Linda Miller runs the BBQ restaurant, a place she and her family just opened this spring, in an old post office that had been empty for years.

"It makes us feel a little frustrated," Miller says. "We came thinking we were going to have a very good crowd here, and a new business always has a lot of costs starting up. And that will impact us, if we can’t make those costs. Like many other businesses in the area, we could be forced to shut down."

Miller is waiting anxiously as the effects of the government shutdown ripple through this rural, military town.  All she, and merchants in other military communities around the region, including Leavenworth and Junction City, Kan., can do is to wait to see how long Congress takes to break the impasse, and restore the government.