GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - More than 300 civilian employees at the Gulfport Seabee base were among the thousands of government workers sent home Tuesday. They reported to work, but were given furlough slips because of the federal government shutdown.
"Gulfport is our home," Seabee Base Commander Capt. Paul Odenthal told a breakfast crowd on Tuesday morning.
The commander kept his speaking engagement at the Chamber of Commerce event, but he admitted his heart was back at the base, where 320 civilian workers were being told to go home. They were furloughed as part of the federal government shutdown.
"As far as the impact of that, in the short term we'll be able to maintain all our essential functions. And a few shutdowns here and there, but they'll be limited. All our employees are important, but we'll continue to operate the base and do what we need to do in the short term," said Capt. Odenthal.
The commander said even though he had no control over the decisions which triggered the furloughs, he can't help but feel for his workers who were told to go home.
"It's difficult to know those folks are going home without a guaranteed paycheck. So, our heart goes out to them that this won't go on too long and we'll be able to keep them financially stable as they go forward," he told the crowd.
Next year will bring changes at the Seabee base. NMCB 74 is scheduled to be decommissioned in September of 2014. Beyond that, the commander told the crowd, things are less certain.
"The budget picture for '14, '15 and '16 is very uncertain. So, will there be more battalions asked to decommission? I don't know. We think we're at a low stage where we'll stay," said Capt. Odenthal.
As for how long these furloughs may last, he has no inside information.
"Your guess is as good as mine as to how long this will go on," he said.
There are 1200 civilian employees in all at the Seabee base. The 320 who were furloughed include administrative staff, instructors and members of the training and support team who help prepare Seabees for deployment.