Trump, shutdown, furlough, extreme liberals, federal government – these are just a few trigger words that have been circulating for weeks now. The words we haven’t heard too much of are the Coast Guard, what we hear less about is Puerto Rico. Since the shutdown, families and organizations have been teaming up to help the Coast Guard but it seems people do not know we have Coasties overseas in Puerto Rico. We also have Coasties in Guam, Bahrain, and in other places of the world but today, I am speaking from where we are stationed in – Puerto Rico.
Have we been forgotten?
When people find out we are stationed on what most people would consider paradise, they fail to see the hardship that comes with living on an island. Not only will the government turn a blind eye to a tiny island that was ripped apart by two hurricanes, Irma and Maria (about a week apart) but being a Coast Guard family, we never thought we would be forgotten as well. All around our country, Coasties have found themselves in financial hardship and many civilians and families have volunteered to help make things a little comfortable for them. The news coverage finally picked up on the PISSED OFF spouses speaking up for their active duty and families (since active duty were directed not to comment on this topic). It is heart warming to see all these people love their Coast Guard so much they are willing to provide free meals, free canned food, free diapers but at the same time, it’s hard to not feel forgotten when we see these families receive help while we are left wondering why *Romano’s Macaroni & Grill will not offer free meals in Puerto Rico despite the same offer in the states.
On January 8, 2019, I received an official e-mail titled “Managing Your Finances During a Furlough” which states “Finding supplemental income during your furlough period might be challenging, but here are a few ideas for adding income: Have a garage sale… Sell unwanted, larger ticket items through the newspaper or online… offer to watch children, walk pets, or house-sit… turn your hobby into income… tutor students, give music or sports lessons… become a mystery shopper…” Bankruptcy is even an option, it is suggested as a last resort but this shouldn’t even be option – PERIOD. Federal workers choose to work in this field to secure their livelihood – whether they are single or with dependents – they should never be told to declare Chapter 7 (declaring bankruptcy) as a financial option.
There have been many talks about back pay which basically means all of my husband’s missed paychecks will, eventually, get paid to him whenever the shutdown is lifted. People who are not in our position, or who have never been through a process of back pay in the Coast Guard, do not understand the time this takes. According to AllHands “TDY travel that is performed after the shutdown will not be able to be reimbursed until after funding authority is restored.” What does this mean? I will try to break it down:
My active duty husband, who I refer to as “D”, attended two training classes last month in December BEFORE the shutdown happened. He used the Government Travel Credit Card (which is standard) to book his flight for both and spent his own money so he can eat and travel through Uber during his stay in the training courses which are both located back in the states. In total, he had spent about (or a little more than) $2,500 in which he had to pay out of pocket because no travel claims were processed before the shut down.
Although he was paid on December 31, that pay check went straight to all of our bills: phone, school loan, car & auto insurance, loan we took out when we were hit with Maria, pet insurance, etc. Our savings were then drained from the $2,500 we had no choice but to pay. Since then, the GTCC has announced they will be working with federal workers on their account but at this point, the damage was done to us. While most of our bills were understanding enough to work with our debt, others were not such as our USAA Auto insurance since we are stationed in Puerto Rico (that policy is a shit show on itself) and American Express .
Despite all of this, USAA has offered loans at 0.01% interest while Coast Guard Mutual Assistance have offered loans interest free. Thanks to social media we have found organizations such as National Diaper Bank Network and food banks. Those stationed in Puerto Rico have been trying to help each other out as best we can.
This is why the Coast Guard deserves pay
When hurricane Maria hit us, my husband and I stayed on the island during the storm. Eventually, I was evacuated due to my husband’s request but my husband stayed in Puerto Rico. He helped bring water and MREs (Meals, Ready-To-Eat) to the locals who had no source of food, water, or roads to drive through (given if the locals still had a car that wasn’t destroyed by the storm). The cases of bottled water were paid out of the pockets of our own Coast Guard members. In fact, these Coasties were not given authorization to make these trips to give water out. They felt the sense of humanity and refused to let the people of this island perish while the tourist area continued to receive more news coverage than any other area in Puerto Rico.
In the last month, the Coast Guard caught 66 migrants in a span of 3 days in five separate events near Puerto Rico, according to United Coast Guard News , where they are all given food, water, and medical attention once aboard the cutters. In addition to stopping migrants from reaching U.S. territory (surprise! Puerto Rico is UNITED STATES TERRITORY *gasp* I know, right?), they also stopped “4 kilograms of heroin approximately 34 miles west of Desecheo, Puerto Rico.”
Our coasties are not limited to stopping those smuggling in drugs onto our soil but they also go on search and rescue missions. Due to the fact San Juan, Puerto Rico is a tourist area, we often have cruise ships pulling in, multiple ships at time and unfortunately, accidents happen at sea. In December 2018, a 70 year old American Veteran aboard the Norwegian Escape cruse ship, roughly about 60 miles north of San Juan, was having chest pains and needed medical attention; the Coast Guard came to the rescue. With the help of our Sector San Juan Coasties, they were able to send a rescue helicopter from our C.G. Air Station Borinquen to assist the citizen passenger.
“This case would not have been possible without the exceptional coordination with Sector San Juan watchstanders and the officer’s and crew of the Norwegian Escape,” said Lt. Marco Tinari, Air Station Borinquen MH-65 Dolphin helicopter pilot. “We are glad we could assist this American Veteran.” – U.S. Coast Guard News
Back in August 2016, the Caribbean Fantasy ship had its engine catch fire. It was a ship leaving San Juan, Puerto Rico to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic which carried several students heading to a competition. It took the Coast Guard about two hours to kill the fire but managed to save and evacuate all 512 passengers. When investigated, it was disclosed that the “U.S. Coast Guard had discovered 107 deficiencies during 61 inspections of the ship since 2010,” according to CTVNEWS. The report went on to, “The most recent inspections found no major faults, but a January 2015 inspection stated that oil fuel lines should be screened or protected in some way to avoid any spray or leakage onto ignition sources.”
Local establishments begin to show their support of federal workers in Puerto Rico
This week we have finally seen a couple of local Puerto Rican restaurants who have opened their business to help federal employees. Bigotes, a Mexican grill, will begin offering %20 discount for all federal employees until the 2019 shutdown is over.
La Dona Mex Kitchen Cantina is another establishment that has decided to help Coasties and all federal workers.
Active duty members are not allowed to speak about the government shutdown.
They are not allowed to “call out sick.”
They must put on their dress blue hats and go to work, go underway, deploy overseas.
They have made an oath to put their families second for the sake of their country.
Our husbands and wives who honor that oath cannot make noise over the unfairness of working for free… but the spouses can. We, the spouses have the right to speak up and be there for our heroes who have been there for others. From Hawaii to Bahrain, California to Puerto Rico – spouses all over have been in an uproar to get the media to focus on the silent voices that is our Coast Guard and it has been working. We cannot allow the United States Coast Guard to get buried under the news. Make those calls, post your #ShutDownStories, keep #PayOurCoastGuard going, and keep fighting for our heroes.
The United States Coast Guard is a military branch and deserves the same respect as their brothers and sisters in the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marines, U.S. National Guard, U.S. Air Force!
***I have been in contact with their establishment