Furloughed Oklahoma defense workers back on duty, but uncertainty lingers

Thousands of Department of Defense employees across the country and about 2,700 at Tinker Air Force Base returned to work Monday. But uncertainty remains for the future about the politics involved in the government shutdown.
BY PHILLIP O'CONNOR poconnor@opubco.com Modified: October 7, 2013 at 7:08 pm •  Published: October 8, 2013

At Altus Air Force Base, about one-third of the 1,100 civilians were furloughed and all returned to work Monday, a base spokeswoman said.

At the Oklahoma National Guard, nearly all of the 691 federal technicians furloughed a week ago were back on the job Monday, and the rest were expected to report back to work Tuesday, spokesman Col. Max Moss said. The vast majority are National Guard members, many responsible for maintaining equipment such as helicopters and the F-16 fighter jet.

“While we regret our federal employees had to endure another furlough, we are glad they are back on the job today supporting our National Guard mission,” Moss said.

Meanwhile, many other government offices and activities remain idle.

The National Guard notified forces Monday that drill for the coming weekend has been canceled because of the shutdown. Guard members are paid to attend such training with federal money.

More than 100 Oklahoma Military Department state employees were notified Monday they will be furloughed Oct. 18 as a result of shutdown. The Guard has more than 300 employees statewide and those facing possible furlough are in positions that are at least partially reimbursed by the federal government.

At the 15th Street Grill, the lunch crowd had cleared out but a hazy smoke and the smell of onion burgers still hung in the air Monday afternoon as owner Steve Hosford talked about a shutdown he estimated cut his take last week by 25 percent. Hosford, who supports the new health care law, blamed Congress and not President Barack Obama for the shutdown.

“I don't think it's right to do that,” said Hosford, who said Tinker workers make up about two-thirds of the customers at the Harley-Davidson-themed bar he and his wife have owned for seven years about a mile from the base's main gate. “That hurts everybody. You can't go to work. You can't pay your bills.”

Hosford, 48, of Midwest City, said he relies on a state health insurance program to cover himself and his employees.

“The government should subsidize that stuff,” he said. “Make it cheap for everybody.”

At a table a few feet away sat his stepdaughter, Jessica Johnson, 22, who chooses to go uninsured.

“Can't afford it,” she said.