Furloughed, frustrated and fortunate

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - LACKLAND, Texas -- Now that the reality of my Sequestration-mandated furlough has come and gone, the extra days off gave me some time to assess my situation.

Make no mistake, no amount of empathy by others can take the sting out of being ordered not to do your job without pay when you're perfectly able to do so. It's an unsavory business practice that leaves a sour taste in everyone's mouth. But it could have been worse.

There's no way to sugar-coat losing multiple work days, and the accompanying pay cut spanning a fiscal year. Just ask the hundreds of thousands of my fellow federal furloughees, not to mention our creditors and merchants who felt the domino effect of the belt tightening on their bottom lines.

Twenty-one businesses near the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., displayed Furlough Friendly Community campaign stickers showing their support of the roughly 11,500 furloughed employees there. One Aberdeen restaurant offered a 20 percent discount to diners.

Closer to home, the JBSA-Lackland 802nd Force Support Squadron offered furloughed employees Furlough Discounts at the bowling center, golf course and for recreation equipment rentals. The Lackland office of Women, Infants, and Children, the non-emergency Special Supplemental Nutrition Program reached out to furloughed families who qualified for WIC assistance.

One of my fellow federal employees is my wife Sharon, who, prior to the Sequestration kicking in, had her job here axed, forcing her to seek, and luckily land, a civil service position overseas. She and I collectively would have lost 40 percent of our pay between July 8 and Sept. 21. Like so many others we had to differentiate between our wants and needs to make ends meet. It could have been worse.

My dad, a Marine who fought at Guadalcanal in World War II, was a plasterer by trade. He was laid-off numerous times by his company when there was no place to plaster. I remember as a kid our refrigerator looking mighty bare when dad's lay-offs got lengthy, prompting me to wonder where our next meal would come from. It got to the point where I sampled my pet dog's biscuits thinking they could tide me over. Believe me, the 2013 furlough could have been worse.

I've read civilian newspaper accounts of how the federal civilian workforce is affected by Sequestration. One talks about the sequester stripping the trust and confidence of federal workers in their elected officials. Another story detailed how, even with financial help, the most vulnerable workers, those on the lower end of the civilian wage scale, can barely handle the furloughs. A third article chronicled how unions rally federal workers to appeal furloughs.

I didn't appeal my furlough because I knew I didn't have a compelling enough reason for mine to be overturned. So, I accepted the mandatory time off, bracing for the worst but hoping for the best.

Fortunately, the latter came to fruition.

The day I returned to work following my fourth furlough day, my co-workers surprised me with the news Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced the number of mandatory furlough days would be reduced from 11 to six. The SECDEF said the decision resulted from a combination of Congressional approvals and Departmental budget management efforts.

While I'm thankful there was light at the end of the tunnel, my question is: Why couldn't this solution be reached prior to the Sequestration hammer falling?

I've always believed good things happen to people who wait. Unfortunately, as someone who felt the furlough first-hand, I saw nothing good happening as a result of the decision-makers on Capitol Hill waiting too long to act when Sequestration was looming.

Could it be worse? Yes, if decision makers don't learn from procrastinating.