Pushing her cart through the Warrior Way Commissary’s “Sequester Bust Sale” on Monday, April Sanchez was happy to see things going back to normal.
When the furloughs began in July, Sanchez, a military spouse and mother of three, had to rearrange her normal routine because the mandated days off closed Fort Hood’s commissaries an extra day a week.
“It gets us right back where we used to be,” she said. A Harker Heights resident, she said she prefers driving to the commissary to shop.
“We’ve been all over the place and missing out on grocery shopping,” Sanchez said. “It’s been two weeks since I came. We were just grabbing little things here and there from Walmart and stuff, so it’ll be a lot easier for now.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Aug. 6 the furlough of the department’s estimated 800,000 civilian employees would end early — with each employee being furloughed six days instead of the 11 announced May 14.
Monday marked the end of the furloughs for most of the 6,000 civilians working at Fort Hood, and services are expected to return to 97 percent capability, said Andy Bird, Fort Hood’s deputy garrison commander.
Most services will return to pre-furlough hours in the coming weeks.
The remaining 3 percent is spread across various departments as people hired since the furloughs began July 8 also need to meet the requirement of six furlough days.
“Fort Hood employees made tremendous effort during the furlough to continue the same quality of service and support, and we greatly appreciate the patience and understanding by our customers during these challenging times,” he said.
Fort Hood’s two commissaries will return to operating six days a week today.
Back at the commissary
Beth Adams, Warrior Way store director, hosted the post-furlough sale to celebrate the first Monday back open.
“We’re ready to get back in business and take care of the customers who take care of us,” she said.
While many customers remained loyal, she said the biggest complaint with furloughs was that it meant both commissaries were closed on Monday.
Other issues were longer checkout lines and stocking delays. One thing that didn’t waver, Adams said, was the customer service provided by her employees.
“Some people were frustrated or hurting, but they didn’t let it reflect on their customer service,” Adams said.
Charles Green, director of Fort Hood’s Directorate of Human Resources, said he saw similar resilience in his team.
“As a director, I’m so proud of what these folks have done in this time of adversity,” he said. “Their attitudes did not waver.”
He did warn that even though most employees will be back to work full-time, things won’t instantly go back to normal.
“Because of the backlog that accumulated based on the condensed work schedule, there will be a little delay in getting it back to completely normal,” Green said.
Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center will return to pre-furlough hours Friday, with the exception of the Weekend Acute Care Clinic, which will remain closed.
That decision was made after taking a hard look at the bottom line and anticipated long-term budget cuts, said Col. Patricia Darnauer, hospital commander.
“At this point in time, it was determined the (weekend clinic) couldn’t be sustained,” she said in a statement. “In order to maintain our stringent standards of care during this challenging time, we need to embrace changes that have the least impact on direct patient care.”
The Robertson Blood Center, which was closed on Thursday to accommodate furloughs, will return to normal hours, hospital officials said.
“Above all, I want to thank our beneficiaries for their patience and continued support during these trying times,” Darnauer said.
“Our fiscal environment is changing, but we will work to remain flexible, adaptable and responsible to continue to meet our patients’ health care needs.”