Government shutdown forces closure of JBLM commissary

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- The government shutdown has brought some unwelcome changes to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and those living on the base hope they don't last long.

A weekend training session for the National Guard has been cancelled, and military commissaries around the region have been shut down.

Despite the shut down, the base is largely still operating. The gates are open, Madigan Hospital is still operating and troops are still training. But thousands of civilians have been laid off and, as of Wednesday, the commissary is no longer open.

Members of the military, both active and retired, couldn't believe their eyes when the saw the "closed" sign outside the commissary.

"That's a bit of a shock," said military shopper Glenda Smith.

JBLM's giant grocery store with deep discount prices was open on Tuesday to sell off its perishables, but its employees were furloughed and its doors were locked on Wednesday.

"It's kind of ridiculous, you know. We're tired of it," said Delbert Hutcheson, who shops at the commissary.

The closure means military families living on base will have to go elsewhere to find groceries, and they'll have to pay more for them.

"Well, I guess we're going to go take our business to Safeway, but it's annoying. It would be nice if they could get their acts together," said one shopper.

Grocery stores in nearby Lacey, Lakewood and Spanaway are picking up the business as military shoppers scurry to find alternatives.

Army wife Krista Woodstock had to travel a distance to get groceries for her family.

"The commissary is cheaper in a lot of things, so when I come here I spend a little bit more money," she said. "So both ways, it's a nuisance.The commissary is closer to where I live."

She said her family is fortunate that active duty soldiers such as her husband are still getting paid. But officials at the base say 4,000 civilian employees were told to stay home without pay and wait for the crisis to end.

Active duty soldiers are getting training to take over the civilian jobs in case the deadlock stretches on.

The shutdown is causing problems for Sgt. Alfonso Garcia. Wednesday was his last day in the service, but the shutdown means he can't get his separation papers.

"I mean, I got out today and the shutdown just started yesterday. It's just bad fortune, I guess," he said.

Workers at the transition center assured Garcia that he'll get his papers, but they said it will take a while.

As for the National Guard, 765 full time guard employees were temporarily laid off. And a weekend drill for guard soldiers and airmen was cancelled.