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Marines, families at Camp Pendleton brace for possible government shutdown

April 7, 2011 | 12:57 pm

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Even for a weeknight, the haunts in downtown Oceanside favorecd by young Marines from nearby Camp Pendleton were unusually subdued.

Few Marines could be found dining at Davina’s Cabo Grill & Cantina, or the Rice Garden, or Johnny Manana’s. A handful shopped at T-shirt stands or jewelry stores or sipped beer at favorite hangouts.

Even the line at Regal Cinemas was shorter than usual -- though the Marine-centric “Battle: L.A.” was playing. The pizza parlor next door was deserted.

For weeks, various commands have been warning Marines on the sprawling San Diego County base that a day of reckoning was coming. Now that day has arrived and Marines appear to be reacting by staying on base, satisfying themselves with chow hall fare and maybe a video rental.

If Republicans and Democrats fail to negotiate a compromise over federal spending reductions, a government shutdown will commence after midnight Friday. Should that happen, military personnel would continue to earn money but would not receive paychecks until Congress appropriated the money.

Defense officials have said that operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Japan and elsewhere would not be affected, nor would training for upcoming deployments. The immediate concern is whether scheduled military paychecks for April 15 would include only one week’s pay, instead of two.

With a potential shutdown looming, much of the talk among Marines on this week night was not about deployments or new physical fitness rules but about what a paycheck-stoppage would mean for them.

“I’ve got a mortgage back home in Kansas, and gas and food to buy,” said Lance Cpl. Tim Hartman, 29. “If this goes on too long, I’m going to be hurting big time. So are a lot of guys.”

At the Dairy Queen, Sgt. Marcus Johnson, 32, who was enjoying chili dogs and ice cream with his wife and their three children, said he’s been preparing for a shutdown.

“My finances are in order, we’re going to be fine,” he said. “We don’t live paycheck to paycheck.”

Sgt. Joshua Gilbert, 25, also with a wife and three children, said that he too would be able to get through a financial squeeze.

“But I’ll bet 90% of the privates and corporals are going to be in trouble,” Gilbert said. “The young guys tend to get paid, spend it all and then wait for the next paycheck.”

At Cabo Grill, some of the strongest comments came from Marine wives unwilling to be quoted by name. Military law makes it a crime to criticize the commander in chief, even for his role in a budget fight.

“If they’re not going to pay the military, to turn their back on the guys defending this country, then they’re going have trouble” recruiting, fumed a sergeant’s wife. “I’ll personally tell the C.O. that he can ...”

Her rant was cut short when her husband told her to “be quiet. Right now.”

The wife of a gunnery sergeant, who has made seven deployments in his 16 years, said that a possible shutdown is a major topic when spouses congregate on base.

“We’re all talking about it,” she said. “I’ve lost sleep over it. They shouldn’t treat us like this. Nobody should be treated like this.”

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) on Wednesday introduced the Ensuring Pay of Our Military Act of 2011 to make sure military personnel would continue to be paid. But the bill will have to jump several hurdles.

Cpl. Sam Rydzynski, 22, out for a stroll with his wife, Samantha, 21, said he refuses to worry about the situation. He noted that there are funds on base for Marines and sailors who find themselves cash-short.

“We’ll get through it,” he said. “That’s what Marines do: They get through tough times.”

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a spending measure that would fund the Department of Defense through September and also keep the government open for an additional week. But President Obama has threatened to veto the measure in a continuing dispute over spending priorities.

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-- Tony Perry in Oceanside

Photo: Marine Sgt. Marcus Johnson, 32 sits with his wife and children during a night out for ice cream in Oceanside. When asked about the possiblilty of a federal government shutdown and suspension of his paycheck, his said he doesn't live paycheck to paycheck so his family will make it through. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

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