Coast Guard deployed in Middle East, Pacific without pay during government shutdown

PHOTO: Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf, a 418-foot national security cutter, departed Alameda, California, for a patrol in the Western Pacific Ocean on Jan. 20, 2019, despite the partial government shutdown that left the Coast Guard without funding.PlayU.S. Coast Guard
WATCH News headlines today: Jan. 23, 2019

While the political impasse over the partial government shutdown drags on in Washington, the Coast Guard has not only kept patrolling America's coastlines, but also carrying out little-known significant missions overseas -- all without pay.

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Coast Guardsmen serve in the Persian Gulf, one of the busiest and most combustible shipping lanes in the world, patrolling side-by-side with the U.S. Navy amid rising tensions with Iran. They're also interdicting migrants in the Caribbean.

On Sunday, the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf with a crew of 170 left Alameda, Calif., for a multi-month deployment to the Western Pacific Ocean in support of the Department of Defense. But as the ship pulled away, the Coast Guard commander in charge of the Pacific region, acknowledged the shutdown has added stress to the departure.

“I know it is hard for these crews to be leaving behind their dependents and spouses – it’s a thousand times more so when everyone is wondering when our next paycheck will be, and how they can support the family they are leaving behind,” said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan.

“There has been an incredible outpouring of support for the families here in the Alameda area, but the tension and the anxiety for the crew is real," Fagan added. "We are standing by to help support those families who are left behind the same way that we are going to support the crew as they sail for the Western Pacific.”

PHOTO: Coast Guard Quarter Master Second Class Matt E. Fonville, 22, of Moorehead City, NC., stands watch in Bahrain in 2003. U.S. Coast Guard
Coast Guard Quarter Master Second Class Matt E. Fonville, 22, of Moorehead City, NC., stands watch in Bahrain in 2003.

As the government shutdown enters its thirty-third day, the Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Karl Schultz is also calling attention to the hardships placed on the service as President Donald Trump battles with congressional Democrats over reopening the government.

“Ultimately, I find it unacceptable that Coast Guard men and women have to rely on food pantries and donations to get through day-to-day life as service members,” Schultz said in a video message posted to Twitter on Tuesday.

While the military at large is funded during this partial government shutdown, the Coast Guard operates as part of the Department of Homeland Security, one of the major departments operating without funding since late December. In past shutdowns, Congress has enacted legislation to pay service members before they missed a paycheck.

Several lawmakers have introduced bills to fund the Coast Guard during the shutdown, and Schultz was on Capitol Hill last week meeting with leaders about moving legislation through the House and Senate.

“[Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell] apparently told the Coast Guard that he would let that one move forward,” Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., a senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee whose coastal district includes the Coast Guard Academy and who had been briefed on the meeting with McConnell, told ABC News.

David Popp, a spokesman for McConnell, declined to comment on the leader's meeting but said Democrats were holding up Coast Guard funding legislation.

On Thursday, the Senate is expected to vote on two competing bills: both of which would re-open the government but will need 60 votes to proceed.

“Our amendment (the president's proposal) fully funds the rest of the government for the remainder of the [fiscal year],” Popp told ABC News. “The Dems do a [continuing resolution] until whatever their date is,” he added.

The first bill includes the president’s proposal of $5.7 billion for the border wall, and temporary relief for some 700,000 so-called “Dreamers,” as well as some restrictive new language around asylum status.

The second bill includes the House-passed legislation that would fund the government at current levels until Feb. 8.

Democratic sources say that would include the Coast Guard being funded under the short term continuing resolution until Feb. 8. In the meantime, they would seek to work out a broader deal with Republicans and the White House to fund the government, including the Coast Guard.

Overseas deployments continue despite shutdown

During the shutdown, Coast Guard operations have continued around the globe.

Beyond the Bertholf's deployment on Sunday, in the Caribbean, a unit interdicted 66 migrants over a 72-hour period near Puerto Rico, according to a Coast Guard release. And on Thursday, the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection responded to a report of three stowaways on a merchant vessel off the coast of Miami.

The largest Coast Guard unit deployed overseas is Patrol Forces Southwest Asia in Bahrain which conducts "law enforcement training for vessel and shore-side personnel associated with partner nations and coalition-nation vessels," according to the Coast Guard.

It also supports advanced interdiction teams and hosts a forward operating base at the Kuwait Naval Base.

The Coast Guard also supports U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, as well as in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.