"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!
The ban was so blindsiding and immediate, like a rug being pulled from under our feet; we didn't know how to respond.
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.
Imagine you were only supposed to be out for work on a mission for 3 days… now you're out for 17.
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.
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.
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!
WRITTEN BYLakimbria Penn-White