It is common knowledge that daily life in the military is different than daily life in the civilian world…until recently. Amid the changes that have taken place since the COVID-19 pandemic, civilians are getting a taste of what it is like to be in the military, and they are handling it…not great. Of course, why should they? A stripping of individual freedoms is something that a military member agrees to and is paid for…we know the sacrifices we will make by joining the military and we are willing to accept them. As I see civilians faced with the current realities of quarantines and shelters in place and food shortages, I am reminded of life on deployment and am encouraged to share how military members handle the slog.
Disclaimer, this is *NOT* to insist that the military is better because we do this willingly, that is not my point at all. My point is to bring awareness to the similarities that civilians are currently facing with the lives that military members lead daily, and what we do to help manage the uncertainty and chaos. Because, y’all, it isn’t easy, and while a small part of me feels relief that my civilian friends might have a better understanding of military life, I am concerned about the overall mental strain of this pandemic on our society…because deployment changes you, and there isn’t a soul who is going to come out of this pandemic unchanged.
My therapist saw me yesterday and commented that while he does not know what it is like to be shot at or what it is like in Afghanistan, he has spent a lot of time thinking about how this is the closest he will probably ever be to understanding how I have felt. I laughed and said, “yeah, y’all are getting a little taste of it…and while I had a rough couple of days last week when I looked at my 401K, something just clicked for me and my mode has changed.” “What do you mean?” “I see this as a deployment…and you just have to put your head down and think “chow to chow….Sunday to Sunday…just get to the next chow…just get to the next Sunday.””
Uncertainty and Chaos
We have no idea what it going on with this pandemic. Small business owners are watching their livelihoods collapse. People are laid off with bills due in days. The stock market has lost billions of dollars. And we don’t know when it will end. That is terrifying, and the lack of an end date compounds the anxiety that so many people feel. “If I just knew when it would be over…” Military people are able to point to their EAS date (end of active service) and cling to it with the knowledge that the shit will be over then…and guess what, guys? This will be over too. You may not have an EAS date to point to as a light at the end of the tunnel but the end of the chaos will come. You can’t stop time, baby. Focus on the end…nothing lasts forever.
Threat of Death
The pandemic is killing thousands of people and we don’t know where it will hit next. The realization that death can come for you at any time is something we tend to bury, and a pandemic brings this fear from our subconscious to the conscious. It is humbling and makes you appreciate life in ways you overlooked before. Focus on the life around you as it continues. Have sex, listen to nature, create (only through creation is death conquered), and love. We will all die one day, so do your damnedest to live.
And just like the military uses PPE (personal protective equipment) like flak jackets and kevlar helmets, civilians can help alleviate the threat of death by washing their hands, wearing masks, and avoiding crowded areas (because groups of troops are targets for improvised explosive devices…see the similarities??). Troop dispersion is paramount on convoys and patrols…because crowding together increases the risk of death. Protect yourselves as best you can!
Deployment can be really lonely! With COVID-19 though, it isn’t like your friends and family are back in the states having a blast…they are on their own shitty deployment! But realize you are isolated and that being sad is normal and expected. Connect with people around you. If you are in quarantine, you might realize you miss physical touch. Hug yourself really tightly, wrap yourself in a blanket, and try not to think about what it was like to touch another human…because you’ll probably cry.
Boredom and Silliness
Deployment is so damn boring. People think that they will be okay watching TV for hours and hours, so they have hard drives with all of the shows (and porn) prepared for deployment. But, as people can see, technology gets really boring too, and it is normal to see troops do really stupid shit out of boredom. My personal favorite pastime was having someone balance a bottle on their head while we took turns throwing rocks at the bottle to see who could knock it off. Embrace the silliness, embrace the boredom, and laugh as much as possible.
You don’t get to do what you want to do when you want to do it. Your fun is canceled, your routine is destroyed, and you are lost. You have to take solace in the small comforts that you previously took for granted and realize that sometimes a good day is when you get to have a phone call.
We are all in this shitty situation together as a human race! This is such a unique experience …and there is something amazing about surviving the suck with the people around you, even if it is only virtually. We are seeing the good and bad in the people (and businesses) around us. The bonds you form in shitty situations will last forever, which is another reason the military is so close. We are brothers and sisters experiencing family abuse…and even if we all hate each other a little bit and have seen way too much of each other, we will always remember the time we climbed into a dumpster and looked for a CIK together (lol, remember that, Kennedy?). Band together in this shitty time, and remember to bitch…it is okay to bitch.
Look to the Leaders…
The military has some amazing leaders who keep their troops informed and who look out for their welfare. However, there are a lot of really terrible leaders in the military too, and they wreck havoc with their misinformation, lack of direction, and unprofessionalism. And what can you do if your leaders suck? You become a better leader yourself. You look at what YOU have to offer and give it to those who are needing calm, who are needing food, and who are needing reassurance. And realize that you need to schedule your breakdowns to be offset with your friends’…everyone is going to breakdown in some fashion. It is a good time to check your humanity and give what you can when you can.
Happy Deployment, Guys!
You learn a lot about yourself and those around you during transformative times such as these. While you’re experiencing this Groundhog Day life, remember…chow to chow…Sunday to Sunday. Cheers!