It took me a few weeks to realize what was going on. After the WHO called it a pandemic, I noticed a shift. When Trump declared it a national emergency, I felt a little more. It took about a month before I could identify and figure out what was happening.
For the first time in a few years, I was sleeping through the night. I’d wake up alert and rested. I almost had a bounce in my step. Then I realized what it was. I felt like I was in country, deployed, on a Forward Operating Base and inside the wire.
I was on a mission.
How messed up is that. I felt alive! I had a purpose. Many of those around me were pissed off, annoyed, and full of fear. Not me. I thought I had a mission for the first time in a while. Lives depended on me.
One would think that with all the shit in my head and physiology, I’d be a total mess. My VA diagnosis is very colorful. And covers the gambit from A to S: anxiety, chemical dependency, depression, PTSD, and suicidal tendencies. With each passing day of the Stay Home, Work Smart order, you’d think I should’ve been spiraling down faster and faster. And you’d be right if you just looked at my VA diagnoses. But that’s not the case.
I was doing okay.
I love stress. Not all stress, of course. But certain types of stress. I loved to rock climb when I was younger. There was nothing like turning my head away from the rock and looking out over my shoulder while several hundred feet off the ground. I do triathlons now. It’s not the same kind of rush, but I’m also not thirty anymore.
I felt I had a purpose and that lives were dependent on me. I wasn’t in control, but I could control many things. Plan for the worst, hope for the best.
As a flight engineer on the C-130, I was part of a close-knit team. While flying missions in Afghanistan, hopping from one Forward Operating Base to another, the 6 person crew were dependent on each other. Our lives were dependent on each other. I had to perform, as did the rest of the crew People were counting on me to do my job. And I relied on them to do their job.
My head has been on a swivel since starting my military flying career. In the military, people talk of SA, as in your SA is slipping. Or, that was some badass SA. Situational awareness, SA, is the art of being able to read your surroundings and then knowing how to respond.
I was running the other day in our local park. A man in his mid to late forties was walking toward me. He was wearing a bandana over his mouth. I don’t run with a bandana on, but I usually wear one when I’m out in public. When he was about 30’ in front of me, he sneezed. It was a big, wet sneeze. I could tell by the sound of it and the movement of his body. And of course, he didn’t sneeze into the foliage on his right. He let it go straight ahead.
I’m a slow runner, so our closure rate was going to take a little time. Unlike when two aircraft are heading for each other. Or flying low levels in the C-130 at close to 300 mph cell phone towers come up in moments, and we’re below the tops of the tower.
I tried to mark on the trail where he sneezed in my mind. My plan was to pull up my tee-shirt over my mouth and nose, then hold my breath as I passed by the spot.
I don’t know if my tactic worked. I guess I’d find out within a week or so. The exciting thing was that I saw a potential problem. Then formulate a solution in the blink of an eye. That’s having your head on a swivel or good SA.
As a flight engineer, I was primarily responsible for the performance of the aircraft. Was the plane doing what we expected it to do? Was the aircraft going to allow us to do what we needed it to do? On a take-off run, if there was a propeller malfunction, I would have to verbalize to the pilot what the failure and what action he should take.
The other task I had was after the pilot called for a checklist I was the crew member who read the items out-loud. I also ensured that each crew member complied with the checklist item.
Today I’ve got a mission. The mission is only for this moment. I don’t need to think about much else except this moment. I’m planning for the next moment and the following days and weeks. But, I’m not dwelling on them. I’m in this moment.
I’m part of a team again. The other members of the team might not realize it. But they’re on the team, and each has their roles. I’m reaching out to others, checking in on my teammates, so to speak. The team is spread out all over the country.
And oh yeah, let’s call it what it is. My city is trying to soften the situation a bit. Stay Home, Work Smart? It’s a Shelter in Place order, right out of the military playbook.
The first part of the “Stay Home, Work Smart” plan I could do easily. I could stay home, I was good at that. For me, it was similar to be stuck inside the wire on a small FOB; in a country, I really didn’t want to do any sightseeing in.
Because of my issues, I don’t like to leave the house. I dread my forty-five plus minute commute to and from work every day. Day in and day out. Let me skip the shower, grab my coffee, and punch-in.
I could really work the “Stay Home, Work Smart” thing. My mom spent most of her time in bed. Parts of me would love to do that. I could set my laptop on my legs on a food tray, the rest of my office next to me, and I’d be at work. At lunchtime, I could move the computer over and make room for lunch. I would have to get out of bed to run, though. But that would only be four or five times a week. I’ve been doing about 13,000 steps I day. I could give that up too! Maybe?
While deployed, I had to carry and sidearm. Instead of the Beretta M9, today, I’m armed with my face mask and hand sanitizer. When I left the hooch in the FOB, I had to have my handgun, or I’d receive an Article 15. If I leave the house without a face mask, it might cost me $1,000.
My wife wants to drag me out for a ride in the car, I’d rather walk around the neighborhood. She wants to run out to the grocery store, I’ll look at Amazon or Whole Foods. They both deliver in two hours or less. I’m perfectly fine staying inside the imaginary constantine razor wire fence I’ve constructed around my house.
The work smart part is even more natural. I’m a web developer. I can work from anywhere I can get online. In the past, I’d hang out at Starbucks. Not an option these days. But I’m just as productive at home.
I don’t know how long I can keep this up? I do know this will pass. But for today or this moment I can do it. Maybe not with a smile but with determination. Like I’m on a mission.