BAHRAIN -- Like their colleagues back home, hundreds of Coast Guard members in Bahrain are working without pay due to the partial government shutdown. The difference is that the "Coasties" in Bahrain face a potential adversary nearby in Iran.
In sharp contrast to the service's tasks back home, the contingent based in Bahrain is at the center of growing tensions between Washington and Tehran, which is furious over President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of an international agreement on Iran's nuclear program and re-impose sanctions on that country. The Coast Guard was first deployed to the Gulf in 2002, and now has a permanent presence as it helps bolster naval power in the region at the request of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.
The force is there "because of our unique skillsets and expertise," said Capt. J. Paul Gregg, the unit's commodore. These include maritime interdiction, training foreign forces, port security and preventing smuggling.
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But, while operating tactically under the Navy, the Coast Guard still falls under the Department of Homeland Security and its members here are among the 42,000 of the service's officers and enlisted personnel who, along with some 800,000 federal workers, are having to make ends meet as best they can for the past several weeks.
Defense Department appropriations were approved last year, allowing funding for most of the armed services to continue when Congress failed to reach an agreement before Christmas to fund the government. President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers sought funding for a wall along the border with Mexico, but Democrats balked. The deadlock has forced federal workers to be sent on furlough or to work without pay.
"The U.S. Coast Guard has been proactively communicating the impacts of the lapse in appropriations across the service," Gregg said of the shutdown. "As a unit, we have been proactive in sharing those communications, and working with our people on an individual level to help them both plan and seek assistance if needed, as the lapse in appropriations continues."
Across the Coast Guard, support resources available to service members include financial counseling, loans, information and aid from other military support organizations. This week, the service's commandant announced that the USAA insurance and financial services company had donated $15 million, which officials said would be used to fund interest-free loans for about two week's worth of bills.
"There are many resources available to their dependents back home," said Senior Chief Ryan Doss, a spokesperson for Coast Guard Atlantic Area, the Bahrain team's parent command. "By engaging with our deployed members here ... we hope to minimize the personal impacts [of the shutdown] on our crews and their families."
The cutters perform a variety of missions including patrols, exercises and joint engagements with allies in the region. All members are serving one-year, unaccompanied assignments and "just over half" are supporting dependents stateside according to Gregg.
Despite attempts in Washington to push the money through, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz confirmed Tuesday in a statement that the mid-January paychecks were not coming, saying it marked the first time he was aware of when servicemembers in one of the armed forces branches haven't been paid during a shutdown.
The Coast Guard also created a Lapse in Appropriations Guide website for Coast Guard members that provides information, tips and resources, such as letters to send to creditors that explain the situation.
Fortunately for Coast Guard members in Bahrain, they live in government-leased housing off base, meaning they won't have to worry about impatient landlords. That's a relief for many, given the high cost of living in Bahrain, where average rents range from over $2,000 a month for single junior enlisted sailors to over $3,000 a month for chiefs or junior officers with dependents.
"I mean, it sucks," a Coast Guardsman on base told Stars and Stripes, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivities surrounding the shutdown. Still, he remained optimistic that he would get his money "sooner or later."