Furloughs force many U.S. defense workers to scrape by

Matt Thompson
Matt Thompson
CBS News

(CBS News) JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- About one third of the U.S. Air Force has been grounded since April because of those across-the-board federal budget cuts.

But today, the Air Force told CBS News it's back at full strength -- including the precision flying team the "Thunderbirds" cleared for takeoff once again. The budget cuts are affecting the entire military including many civilian employees.

Mechanic Matt Thompson is one of those employees. He repairs military vehicles at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma.

Hagel: Fix sequester or military will have "serious damage"
Steep furloughs hit military workers this week
White House has started sending furlough notices

Matt Thompson
Matt Thompson CBS News

For the next 11 weeks, he'll be forced to take Fridays off, losing 20 percent of his pay.

"I scrape from paycheck to paycheck as it is," said Thompson. "(Not having that 20 percent), that's huge. I still haven't figured out how I'm going to make that work."

Commanders at bases around the country were told to cut hours for the military's civilian employees, affecting thousands of workers who support troops and their families in jobs such as finance and maintenance.

Colonel Chuck Hodges is commander of Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Hodges said it's frustrating to have to make these cuts.

"It's working with the employees. Knowing what they've done for us, over these past years and then having to put them on furlough, ask them to sacrifice even more. These aren't big money, government employees; most of my folks are making less than $40,000 dollars a year," said Hodges.

Matt Thompson's wife suffered a brain aneurysm that left her disabled.

His $2,600-a-month income supports her, the couple's two teenagers, and his mother. But it will drop $600 per month.

"My biggest concern is not being able to have someplace for my wife and my mom and my kids to be able to come," said Thompson.

Colonel Chuck Hodges
Colonel Chuck Hodges CBS News

He is also worried about losing his home. The thought of it brings him to tears, but he said he will make it work somehow.

Many base employees are actually military veterans, now working on the civil side.

Thompson spent eight years as a sergeant in the Army, and another nine years working on base.

"I understand that they need to make some cuts and they need to recover some money from somewhere, but the people that are only making a little bit. Getting their mission accomplished every day shouldn't be the ones losing money," said Thompson.

Thompson's now looking for a second job to pay what the military won't.

To learn how you can help Matt Thompson, email taxidermy@fairpoint.net.