There have been a few questions floating around the internet regarding how a possible government shutdown could affect military families. I don't claim to know every detail about every aspect, but I do know a few things.
UPDATE 3/11/2011: New guidance is very different. Please see Update to Government Shutdown Plans
First, a government shutdown should not affect active duty military pay. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) is not funded via the general budget, and therefore is not part of the government that might close. DFAS did not close during the last government shutdown, and it has informed its workers that it will continue to operate even if a shutdown occurs. I know this is the most important issue for most military families, and I am glad that the news is good.
Most military services will continue to run as usual, though you may see a few less civilians at work.
There is one big possibility that will impact many families: the commissaries could possibly close during a government shutdown. During the last government shutdown, commissaries kept operating. However, this time is different. It is confusing, and I don't exactly have all the details to explain it well. Basically, the commissary employees are part of a union. The union is supposed to be in contract negotiations. If the government shuts down, the negotiations can't continue. However, it isn't clear if the commissaries will, in fact, close. I'm a little frustrated that no one seems to know, or they aren't sharing what they do know with us. Today, the commissary issued a press release on the subject, but it didn't say anything useful. The first sentence of the press release is, "In the event of a government shutdown, commissary customers are asked to check their local military installation news outlets before, during and after the event to determine if stores serving their area are open." It then rambles on for an additional four paragraphs without giving any clue as to whether they expect the commissaries to stay open or close. There is also no mention of unusual situations, such as commissaries located overseas.
I will continue to keep you updated as new information becomes available.