Government shutdown rattles FAMU student cadets

Photo credit: Aldernico Brioche

On Jan. 20, Democrats and Republicans reached a standstill on issues surrounding persons affected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and fund allocations toward the Mexico/United States border wall that President Trump has pushed since the genesis of his presidential campaign back in 2016. This standstill resulted in a federal government shutdown.

The shutdown rattled many Florida A&M University (FAMU) ROTC student cadets whose military scholarships and paychecks were put on hold, pushing ROTC leaders to inform the students of the facts of a shutdown.

For Captain Robert Farrell, Assistant Professor of Military Science, the biggest concern among ROTC leaders was calming the nerves of the students being affected and accurately informing them with the reality of the situation.

“From what I do understand from my research and what I’ve been told by my chain of command, those who are bigger than me and get paid a lot more than I do, [the government] budgets a certain amount of money, and [ROTC students and faculty] fall under that money. When that money is not allocated and approved during a federal government shutdown, that puts a hold on what we can do,” Capt. Farrell said. “Once we’re told there’s no money right now, we have to go on hold.”

Captain Regina Lewis claimed that many ROTC students were in a temporary uproar upon the initial news of the shutdown. She made it her duty to clarify that scholarships would be coming; they just would not come as long as government agencies were halted.

“Most of our cadets are using their scholarship money to pay for their tuition. Students came to me asking, ‘Ma’am are we going to get paid? Are we going to have to drop out of school?’ I told them, ‘no, that’s not how it works,’” she said.

 “When the government shuts down, it truly affects the civilians because they can’t come to work. They’re furloughed, so that means the time that they’re out, they do not get paid. It picks right back up once the shutdown is over though,” Capt. Lewis added.

Tashaunda Johnson, FAMU student, Battalion Commander and US Army Reserve soldier, gave her experience of her very first government shutdown, claiming she was able to remain clam despite uncertainty.

“I thought it was a joke,” she admitted. “I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Someone texted me and told me I didn’t have a job. I told them it wasn’t the end of the world.”

The student commander also revealed that her higher-ups made it clear that civilians were not to be contacted to work due to their furlough. This ultimately led to civilian duties falling back onto the soldiers, such as Lewis and Farrell, who had to come to work regardless of the payment hold.

“My commander had to send out a mass text message telling us to not contact [civilians] because they wouldn’t be compensated for any work they’d be doing,” she recalled. “Because of this, all the work fell back on the soldiers. We wanted to restrict any work we sent to those who wouldn’t be getting paid. We were to go through our chain of command.”

“As far as the soldiers are concerned, we are still getting paid; it’s just on hold. Once you find out you’re getting paid, just not right now, it feels better,” Johnson said.

Capt. Lewis sympathized with the worried students, recalling her own initial reaction during her first experience of a government shutdown in 2008.

Capt. Lewis joked, “I was a little shocked. I thought, ‘I’m not getting paid? I’m not going to work!’”

Though the most recent government shutdown only lasted from Jan. 20 to Jan. 22, these situations are especially worrisome for those military persons who are dependent on the check that they receive from the federal government like many FAMU ROTC students and military dependents.

“These situations can be stressful for those who don’t save or have an emergency fund. It’s a wakeup call because no job is secure,” Capt. Lewis claimed. “Everyone said back in the day, ‘go to the military or get a government job, and you’ll never go without,’ but this isn’t necessarily true anymore. We’re fiscally restrained in every job.”

“I do believe that our government is trying to keep the best interest of the soldier in mind. When we have a shutdown, as we’ve had one before, I think they do everything they can to get us paid,” Capt. Lewis added.

After the shutdown was lifted, military scholarship funds were back in swing, easing the nerves of ROTC students and instructors alike.

“Being a leader in the army, I try not to concern myself with what happens politically because my biggest concern is taking care of soldiers, but after a while, I kind of want to bang my head against the wall because I get too wrapped up into it,” Capt. Farrell admitted. “I think the most important thing is to develop some type of understanding. Regardless of what side you’re on, …you have to understand that sometimes people don’t agree and [ROTC students and instructors] have to roll with the punches.”