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Overseas military families lose AFN; access to other services remains unclear

American Forces Network viewers in Europe woke up to this message on their televisions on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. FACEBOOK
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Defense Department personnel and their families overseas woke up Saturday to much confusion, uncertainty and some anger about how their lives would be affected by the U.S. government shutdown.

The shutdown became official at midnight on Friday after Democrats and Republicans in Congress failed to agree on a last-minute spending bill to fund government operations.

It didn’t take long for some DOD operations to grind to a halt: American Forces Network, which provides entertainment and command information to U.S. servicemembers worldwide through its television and radio services, was dark early Saturday morning in Europe.

Classical music was playing on its radio and television stations and the network posted a message online that said AFN services were not available due to the government shutdown.

The loss of AFN programming means U.S. military personnel overseas had to find another way to watch the NFL’s NFC and AFC football championship games.

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The network received some angry comments on Facebook from viewers about the timing, though some of the ire was directed at members of Congress. “No NFL divisional championship games … perfect timing … I bet members of congress are gonna watch it,” someone wrote on AFN Europe’s Facebook page.

It wasn’t immediately known Saturday why AFN went off the air completely. In October 2013, the last time the federal government shut down, AFN maintained news and some radio services.

What other programs or services on military bases overseas might be affected is still not clear. Most of the limited guidance that’s been put out on official social media channels indicate government organizations are still trying to sort out the way ahead.

Government civilians should report to work as scheduled on Monday, according to several Defense Department websites.

Services such as schools, overseas base commissaries and exchanges will remain open. Commissaries in Guam and Puerto Rico will also remain open.

All but a few remote commissaries in the U.S will begin an “orderly shutdown,” according to the dodlive.mil website.

The Military and Family Life Counseling program will also continue uninterrupted, according to dodlive.mil.

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Europe District, posted a message on Facebook Saturday morning saying that all government employees were to report for duty Monday morning to get further instructions from their supervisors.

Similar guidance was posted for U.S. workers at Army bases in the Kaiserslautern Military Community.

U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz in Germany said on Facebook that employees regularly scheduled to work on Monday should report, but garrison officials indicated that some civilians will likely be asked not to report at some point. They wrote that a limited number of pre-designated personnel “will continue operations; the rest will maintain close contact with their supervisors for specific up-to-date instructions.”

Some services may be limited, reduced or closed beginning as early as Monday, garrison officials said.

Rheinland-Pfalz childcare services, health clinics, fitness centers, dining facilities, MWR and shuttle services will remain open during normal hours.

Air Force bases in Kaiserslautern will lose the use of one of their libraries, according to a Facebook posting Saturday from the Ramstein and Vogelweh libraries. The Ramstein library, staffed by local nationals, will stay open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. But the Vogelweh library will be closed until the shutdown is open, the message said. All books in the interim must be returned to Ramstein.

In the Asia-Pacific

In Japan, AFN programming and social media was expected to stop at 2 p.m. Saturday, according to a Commander Naval Forces Japan post on Facebook.

Fleet and Family Support Center work and family life programs will shut down, but counseling will be available, CNFJ said. Restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and other services would remain unaffected.

In South Korea, U.S. Forces Korea civilians are required to work, but it’s unknown when they’ll get paid during a continued shutdown.

Civilians “will be reimbursed at such time as Congress makes appropriated funds available to compensate them for this period of service,” according to USFK’s Facebook site. Military pay beyond Feb. 1 is also subject to congressional action, through Congress did vote to pay servicemembers during the 2013 shutdown.

Civilians on leave must either report back to work or take leave without pay, according to the USFK site.

Other commands in mainland Japan and Okinawa have issued messages stating that further information on any local interruptions would be issued within the next couple of days.

Stars and Stripes reporter Erik Slavin contributed to this report.

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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