Minnesota guardsmen back from Iraq may not get paid

Sgt. Jamie Engelbretson had been back from Iraq for less than 24 hours when she got the bad news today: because of the looming government shut-down, her next paycheck will likely be cut in half.

The next paycheck may not come at all.

"We served our country for over a year in the combat zone and come back home to find our pay is being slashed," Engelbretson told City Pages this afternoon.

"I feel... I'm struggling to put it into words. To find out that as a soldier you gave up a year of your life, put yourself in harm's way to serve your country and protect your home, and then you come back to find home isn't what it was when you left..." she trails off.

Stationed in Iraq, Engelbretson and her unit have been too busy in recent weeks to keep up with the standoff between congressional Republicans and President Obama over budget cuts and policy provisions. Without an agreement, the showdown will result in a government shutdown starting at midnight tonight, with all non-essential government operations going dark and most government workers getting furloughed without pay.

As of now, that includes U.S. service members like Engelbretson. All week, Republicans have been slamming the White House for jeopardizing soldier's pay rather than just agree to GOP demands.

Of course, military pay shouldn't have to be on the line during this partisan brinksmanship. There's a bill that would keep troops' pay coming in the event of a shutdown, but it has so far been blocked from coming to a vote -- by Republican leadership.

But what has become a political football in Washington is painfully real for American service members.

The government shutdown puts servicemen's paychecks in jeopardy.
The government shutdown puts servicemen's paychecks in jeopardy.

Engelbretson's unit, the 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, has been deployed for the last year in Balad, a city 40 miles south of Baghdad. In that time, she says, the unit came under mortar fire more than 100 times.

Their deployment ended, they touched down on American soil for the first time last night, and will spend the next week at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin before returning home. The unit is based in Des Moines, but Engelbretson is from North St. Paul.

Master Sgt. Jimmy Buggs is from Brooklyn Center. He says he depends on his paycheck to support his family.

"I've got a wife and two kids, house payments, car payments, like everybody else," Buggs says. "To learn we may not get paid, it's kind of disappointing. We did our part. We did what we were asked to do."

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