How The Coronavirus Is Affecting My Life In The Army While Deployed Overseas

5 Min Read

"He Did What?"

"Yeah, you know Trump put a travel ban on all travel from Europe to the US?" I snapped my head to the left towards my battle buddy while entering our vehicle to head to work. "No, when did this happen?" He responds with "Last night, it's all over the news." We were nine and a half hours ahead of Washington D.C., so the news was already old. "Wow, this is getting serious."

Introduction At Arm's Length.

When I first heard about the virus, now known as COVID-19 or the novel coronavirus, I was horrified. The media's portrayal of it would have you believe that the world was coming to an end thanks to China. Scenes from 1995's Outbreak came to mind, and I wondered how this would affect my friends and family. We weren't being educated on what the virus actually was, how it's spread, or how to prevent it, rather we received round-the-clock news telling us how many people died and where it might hit next. On the flip side, our leadership made it seem like no big deal — a flash in the pan.

Local medical professionals here rolled their eyes at the notion that it would even spread this far. In my mind, if my doctor is giving me that type of cavalier response then we have nothing to really worry about. Being deployed already comes with the extra stressors of being away from loved ones, longer work hours, and the constant threat from the Taliban and other insurgent groups, the last thing you want to add to that list is an illness. So I did a little prayer for those infected while watching the news cover the COVID-19 every hour on the hour... not anxiety-inducing at all!

We watched everyone's favorite European travel destination, Italy, get hammered, the NBA had to take a knee, meanwhile, our Commander in Chief didn't instill any type of confidence that, as a nation, we would be okay.

"What changed?" I silently asked myself, heading into work. Based on my 12 years of experience working in the Human Resources field, I've come to expect that we are the hub of information; when situations like this occur people always look to the personnel section for the latest and greatest information. So I was not surprised to find my inbox full of questions, comments, and concerns.

I took a full hour to read over reports and news feeds to get a clear understanding of what was really going on and how it could potentially affect us, I had no real idea. All we could do really was speculate on the fact that we could not fly through Europe as it was basically shut down, so I called my immediate leadership, headquarters, and the travel agency, but everyone was waiting on guidance from the very top — a way forward. The ban was so blindsiding and immediate, like a rug being pulled from under our feet; we didn't know how to respond.

Cause And Effect

When traveling from the Middle East back stateside, we routinely stop through any one of the European countries. This pit stop allows the planes to refuel and the Soldiers to grab a snack, stretch, and prepare themselves for the eight-plus hour flight back home. When the travel ban came, all those types of movements stopped.

I can only speak on my unit specifically, I have a handful of personnel who were on their way to return home to their loved ones after completing their combat tour. But now they're all being held at transition stations for unknown amounts of time.

One of my coworkers was at the airport's gate, ready to board a plane on his way back to Afghanistan, but he was told at the last minute he would not be able to travel because they had planned on flying through Germany.

I have a close friend who was trying to go home for their mid-tour leave, the time off you earn during your deployment so you can recharge and relax from the fight, to see his wife and daughter only to have his flight canceled. They had plans to celebrate their ten year anniversary in the Dominican Republic. Canceled.

Caught In The Middle

Just like the United States and most other countries, we have started to shut down facilities, meetings are either canceled or conducted over video teleconference, and access to highly populated areas is no longer permitted. We've been told to maintain a healthy distance from each other. Currently, there are 21 cases in Afghanistan, the number in the city where I work is currently unclear. However, we recently got word that some of our government contractors have been affected by the virus and since then things have gotten dicey. Our medical clinics are taking precautions mandating a 14-day quarantine for those flying into our specific location regardless of where they come from, adding another puzzle to the piece.

Imagine you were only supposed to be out for work on a mission for 3 days… now you're out for 17. On top of that, your team was expecting you to be back because you're the expert in your specific field. This puts weight on our entire organization, hindering our group's capacity to fulfill and complete our missions.

As military members, we are taught to remain resilient in times of challenge and adversary: "Adapt and overcome." Those individuals who are caught up in this mess, understand and appreciate the precautions set forth by those trying to handle this unexpectedly dire situation.

This not an article about an injustice we are facing. This is not a cry for help that we are being treated in any way unfairly. We've grown accustomed to strife. In some ways, this means we are more prepared for the restrictions and adversity that the entire world is now facing due to COVID-19.

I am simply one voice — a vanity point from which many people do not typically see or know anything about. All I wish is that my brothers and sisters in arms stay knowledgeable about the facts, take realistic precautions, maintain calm, and remain optimistic!

3 Min Read

Help! Am I A Fraud?

The Armchair Psychologist has all the answers you need!

Help! I Might Get Fired!

Dear Armchair Psychologist,

What's the best way to be prepared for a layoff? Because of the crisis, I am worried that my company is going to let me go soon, what can I do to be prepared? Is now a good time to send resumes? Should I save money? Redesign my website? Be proactive at work? Make myself non-disposable?

- Restless & Jobless

Dear Restless & Jobless,

I'm sorry that you're feeling anxious about your employment status. There are many people like yourself in this pandemic who are navigating an uncertain future, many have already lost their jobs. In my experience as a former professional recruiter for almost a decade, I always told my candidates the importance of periodically being passively on the market. This way, you'd know your worth, and you'd be able to track the market rates that may have changed over time, and sometimes even your job title which might have evolved unbeknownst to you.

This is a great time to reach out to your network, update your online professional presence (LinkedIn etc.), and send resumes. Though I'm not a fan of sending a resume blindly into a large database. Rather, talk to friends or email acquaintances and have them directly introduce you to someone who knows someone at a list of companies and people you have already researched. It's called "working closest to the dollar."

Here's a useful article with some great COVID-times employment tips; it suggests to "post ideas, articles, and other content that will attract and engage your target audience—specifically recruiters." If you're able to, try to steer away from focusing too much on the possibility of getting fired, instead spend your energy being the best you can be at work, and also actively being on the job market. Schedule as many video calls as you can, there's nothing like good ol' face-to-face meetings to get yourself on someone's radar. If your worries get the best of you, I recommend you schedule time with a qualified therapist. When you're ready, lean into that video chat and werk!

- The Armchair Psychologist


Dear Armchair Psychologist,

I'm an independent consultant in NYC. I just filed for unemployment, but I feel a little guilty collecting because a) I'm not looking for a job (there are none anyway) and b) the company that will pay just happens to be the one that had me file a W2 last year; I've done other 1099 work since then.

- Guilt-Ridden

Dear Name,

I'm sorry that you're wracked with guilt. It's admirable that your conscience is making you re-evaluate whether you are entitled to "burden the system" so to speak as a state's unemployment funds can run low. Shame researchers, like Dr. Brené Brown, believe that the difference between shame and guilt is that shame is often rooted in the self/self-worth and is often destructive whereas guilt is based on one's behavior and compels us to do better. "I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it's holding something we've done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort."

Your guilt sounds like a healthy problem. Many people feel guilty about collecting unemployment benefits because of how they were raised and the assumption that it's akin to "seeking charity." You're entitled to your unemployment benefits, and it was paid into a fund for you by your employer with your own blood, sweat, and tears. Also, you aren't committing an illegal act. The benefits are there to relieve you in times when circumstances prevent you from having a job. Each state may vary, but the NY State Department of Labor requires that you are actively job searching. The Cares Act which was passed in March 2020 also may provide some relief. I recommend that you collect the relief you need but to be sure that you meet the criteria by actively searching for a job just in case anyone will hire you.

- The Armchair Psychologist