We pause every year on Nov. 11 to honor Americans who have served their country in the armed forces. This year, amid a crisis like few of us have ever experienced, we should learn from them as well.
Veterans are living through the COVID-19 pandemic the same as the rest of us. The threat of the virus has forced them, like everyone else, to change the way they work and adjust their home lives and social activities. It has left many of them feeling isolated, vulnerable and stressed out.
On a whole, military veterans may be more equipped to deal with the uncertainty and obstacles caused by the pandemic. When some unforeseen problem arises, men and women in uniform are taught to roll with it. They are trained to cope with the new reality. Their focus is on overcoming the obstacle, not trying to wish it away.
Now, COVID-19 is not an enemy. It doesn’t care what we say or think about it. It can’t be reasoned with or intimidated. Its morale can’t be broken.
But the skills reinforced through the military are not only for direct combat. Learning how to deal with the fluid and unfamiliar not only can help a unit take an enemy position, but also in repairing vehicles or solving a supply line snafu.
Those skills can also be applied outside of the military, as a number of Maine veterans are showing.
When COVID-19 cases began appearing and police had to change nearly everything about how they interacted with the public and enforced the law, Lee Vanadestine, a longtime state trooper with more than 25 years in the military, said the resiliency he learned in the Army and Air Force was key.
“The normal things that would get some people down doesn’t get me down,” he told the Press Herald. “You learn to adapt, modify and overcome the day.”
Jim Leonard, athletic director at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, was swamped with uncertainty when schools shut down in March, putting the fall sports season at risk. The situation changed constantly throughout the summer and Leonard had to stay flexible and focused on getting the best outcome possible — lessons he learned during four years with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, including the invasion of Grenada.
“I just kept trying to keep moving forward, be positive, do the best we can for kids,” he told the Press Herald. “That’s all you can do.”
There are lessons in there for all of us as we head into winter unsure of what the virus will bring. We need to recognize that change will be the only the constant in the coming months, and that we should take each new obstacle as they come.
We need to look out for each other, too — to put the goals of the unit, so to speak, above ourselves and our own comforts, as much as that is possible for your own individual circumstances.
Wearing a mask can be uncomfortable, and it’s hard to miss your friends and family gatherings. Everyone has an opinion or interpretation of the rules surrounding COVID-19, so interacting in public, such as it is, can be fraught with misunderstandings. But it’s necessary that we be flexible with our own actions, and understanding of the actions of others.
Of course, for some, the situation will become overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends, family or professionals — the statewide crisis hotline is 1-888-568-1112.
And for the veterans having difficulty themselves, they should know that it is not a sign of weakness.
That’s another lesson veterans can give us. When they are in trouble, they can turn to someone for help, just as others surely have turned to them in the past.