May is Military Appreciation Month, full of special days like Loyalty Day, Military Spouse Appreciation Day, Armed Forces Day, and Memorial Day. All the celebrating is nice. Our military folks do, and have done, a lot for us, and it’s good to show gratitude.
So while we’re appreciating our military, maybe it would be a good time to look around and notice who you don’t see having conniptions about this virus phenomenon — in large part, our military members and veterans. Maybe we can appreciate learning a lesson from them.
There are a lot of things that become a part of your life when you’ve spent time in the military, especially for those who make a career out of it. A lot of these things are pertinent to what’s going on around us now. Like being told you have to stay in one area for an extended period of time and not being able to leave. Having certain locations be placed off-limits. Being scrutinized to make sure you’re wearing the proper accouterments. Having nothing at all to do for hours and hours, sometimes days and days, and then having everything to do all at once. Eating things you are definitely not fond of, or going without. Finding yourself in weird circumstances and having to figure out what to do to keep from dying, or getting injured, or being very, very sick. Not being able to see or be with your loved ones for what sometimes seems like an eternity.
You learn to deal with it, because you have to.
The mission comes first. You have to do what it takes to accomplish the mission, in the most effective and efficient manner possible, with minimum damage to personnel and infrastructure.
And you have to learn to perform the mission under trying circumstances. Troops drive trucks, set up command centers, repair equipment, communicate, wield weapons, and generate aircraft sorties while wearing bulky suits, rubber boots and gloves, helmets, flak vests, web gear, and chemical warfare gas masks, for hours and hours and hours on end. They practice using chemical agent detection kits, decontamination wipes, brushes and hoses and kitty litter shuffle boxes, and nerve agent antidotes.
Some of us spend 20 or 30 years getting really good at doing all that stuff, and then we enter the Age Of Corona. We need to spend a little more time at home on the couch binge-watching MeTV. We need to keep our distance, go down one-way aisles at Walmart, wear little masks, and wash our hands frequently. Pfffft.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a serious disease threat and there’s no cure or vaccine yet. People are dying, sometimes with horrifying swiftness, excruciating pain, and bizarre symptoms that nobody understands yet. People are scared, the economy is crumbling, life has turned upside down in many ways, and we don’t know what’s going to happen next.
But it’s a matter of perspective.
Military folks have to make choices the same way other people do, but a lot of the time it’s sudden and unexpected and life-or-death when they’re faced with a choice. Frequently, that’s a very hard choice to make. In the case of this pandemic, it isn’t. It’s common sense.
The mission is to keep our country operational and our lives functioning as well as possible. We have to do that as effectively and efficiently as we can, with minimum damage to personnel and infrastructure.
It’s common sense that we can minimize our losses by keeping our distance, wearing masks, and sanitizing as best we can, and there are many ways we can do that. But there’s such a thing as overkill. We’ve shut things down and flattened the curve of infection, but staying shut down for too long will have farther-reaching consequences, including civil unrest, financial instability, unemployment, poverty, despair, drug addiction, alcoholism, homelessness, suicide…the list goes on.
You don’t liberate a village by shooting everybody in it…you only shoot the bad guys, or what’s the point? You have to find the balance. Accomplish the mission and minimize loss.
So we need to open up as much as we can and protect ourselves as much as we can while doing it. BOTH. It’s not rocket science…it isn’t even military science. It’s a lot like driving a car.
We lose 40,000 people a year in automobile accidents, but we don’t ban them, or build them like tanks, or limit speeds to 5 mph. That would make them safer, but inefficient and ineffective. We take reasonable precautions to balance the risk. Of course, there are always people who ignore speed limits, traffic lights, and double yellow lines. You have to watch out for them and protect yourself by driving defensively or staying off the road.
Those are the same people who refuse to keep their distance or wear masks or sanitize when a virus goes galloping about the planet. You have to watch out for them and stay on the defense or stay home. Reasonable precautions. That’s how we accomplish the mission while minimizing loss.
Another part of the military perspective: you don’t get anywhere by panicking, yelling, pointing fingers, and getting indignant about how stupid other people are and how they’re doing the wrong thing. You’re just wasting energy, time, and resources, and distracting yourself and everybody else from the mission.
Our leaders are there for a reason. We need to work within the guidelines they establish as well as we can, and if we have a better way, tell them. And let them lead.
Let’s work together, figure out the best way to do it, and do it.
Improvise, adapt, and overcome.
We can do this. We don’t really have a choice.