BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Risking their lives in the middle of a government shutdown. Thousands of Coast Guard members were left defending our nation for 36 days without getting paid a single dollar. The only branch of the military to not get paid during the shutdown. This, while their families were at home, struggling to make ends meet.
For most of her life, serving this country is all Leighanne Ball has known.
"There's my husband and brother in law, both active duty Coast Guard" says Ball, showing a picture of her husband and brother-in-law in their uniforms.
Ball married into a military family with her husband in the Coast Guard for 18 years.
"I grew up in patriotic family. The military protects you, gives you freedom & America takes care of them" said Ball.
But Ball said "taking care of their own" has simply been forgotten.
Eighteen years of service for her husband turned into 36 days of hell. A political stalemate that flipped the Annapolis family's' lives upside down.
"For this to happen to the coast guard, it's devastating to me. Here we are, worried about how we'll pay our bills, feed our kids and keep our homes" said Ball.
In the midst of the longest Government shutdown ever, two pay periods came and went - with her husband, who's a logistics expert in the Coast Guard, still showing up work every day.
"It kills me. It kills me seeing him have to go to work, no paycheck and that it's a struggle to even be able to afford to get him there" said Ball. "No paycheck. We're a one income family. We don't have anything to fall back on."
In a sobering interview, Ball opened up to WJZ.
While headlines swept across the country, the Coast Guard wife sheds light on what reality was like behind the scenes.
"I haven't been able to sleep very much. I'll just pace, pace, pace the house back and forth all night, long until everyone gets up in morning" said Ball.
With no pay, their bank accounts dwindled.
"We don't have funds, we have nothing. I have 56 cents in our checking account right now, we have nothing at all" says Ball. "Where are we going to get grocery money from? My husband has to go to work, how is he going to get there if we don't have money for gas for his car?
Even the Ball's 4 kids were desperate to pitch in.
"We had a snow storm a couple of weeks ago and we didn't get paid. My kids had to shovel snow to make $36, to get gas money to get my husband to work" said Ball.
Ball oversees the local Coast Guard spouse association. The group communicates through Facebook with messages pouring in daily from wives in California, to Florida, to Maryland.
Ball read some of the messages in the private group, to WJZ.
"The emotional toll is starting to boil over, depression, real depression is settling in. Here's another message, I want them to know that we're struggling inside and out and this is not okay" said Ball, reading the messages.
Ball says some wives are left hopeless with a newborn at home and their husbands deployed.
"We had another family who actually reached out to me, who tried to get formula for her baby and didn't have any formula to feed their child who is two months old" said Ball.
The unknown tore at Ball's heart, even breaking down alone in her car.
"We're trying to figure out do we feed our kids or pay our car insurance? Feed our kids or pay our mortgage?" said Ball in a video she posted on social media.
It's what led her and dozens of others to Capitol Hill, organized by the Sea Service Family Foundation marching around for hours, trying to get bills passed to get the Coast Guard funded. An all-day event that ended up being a let down.
Days later, finally, an emotional breakthrough - when President Trump announced they reached a deal to temporarily end the shutdown.
Despite the temporary relief, it continues to eat away at Ball.
"What's your biggest fear with this whole shutdown?" asked Rick Ritter.
""I have several fears but my biggest is that families are going to lose their homes. We could lose our house. Resources are eventually going to run out, especially if this happens again. Having to tell my kids no, is the hardest thing ever. No, I'm sorry, we need to limit how many snacks you have a day to make this last. Just because you don't know" said Ball.
Emotional scars that may never heal and knowing they could relive this nightmare again in just weeks, if a long-term deal is not reached. Ball said on Friday, February 1st, her husband and other Coast Guard members are expected to receive their backpay.
"We're going to have repercussions financially for years to come. This stuff goes on your credit report. Everything you worked so hard for is just shot, if this keeps going" said Ball.
Ball says like many of the Coast Guard families, they are relying on family and donations. "It's a pride thing with the Coast Guard. Us families don't like to ask for help but we need it" said Ball.
Here's how you can help:
You can donate to Sea Service Family Foundation by clicking here.
Nate's Open Door is accepting the following donations as a way to say thank you to the Coast Guard members:
Gift Cards $20 each for gas and groceries
Canned Meat (ham, chicken, tuna fish)
For any questions, please call (410)-294-5783
Location to drop off items listed below:
Helping Hands of America Inc
Odenton Volunteer Fire Department
1425 Annapolis Road
Odenton, MD 21113
Drop off times: Wednesday, 10:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
for more features.