COVID-19 IMPACTS: Lessons on Well-being Learned from Military Deployments

Russell Mann, Col (retd), OMM, MSM, CD, MBA, PMP

July 15, 2020

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As a Veteran of several deployments and foreign posts while serving with Canada’s military, the pandemic experience over the past several months has had a familiar feel to it. Reflecting on my COVID-19 confinement, it feels like I have been through this before. I have been experiencing the same nervous energy, excitement and stress – related to physical distancing and “safe at home” – as I did each time I deployed or went to a foreign post.

The COVID-19 pandemic officially hit Canada on January 27, 2020. If it was advance notice for a deployment, this would be the time when we would be told to get ready to move out. I had an uneasy feeling that my world – everyone’s world – was about to change.

By about mid-March, throughout Canada, states of emergency were declared by the provinces and territories. I felt like we finally got our orders to head out on deployment to a new mission in a foreign land. That foreign land this time, though, is right here at home, with everyone being affected in various ways by the impact of the pandemic on our economy, society and connections with people – people we work with, people we live near and people we love.

Like the present pandemic, during the first month or two of a deployment, everything was new and changing. I was observing my new environment and learning how to react and adapt to a new routine; figuring out how to survive and operate under circumstances filled with foreign customs, surroundings and threats. So when I was told to stay at home, wash my hands, wear a mask and maintain distance from people I know and trust, it felt similar to my first weeks of a deployment – what mattered most in the first two months was to OBSERVE, REACT and ADAPT.

Now, navigating the third month of the pandemic and beyond, I once again find myself in a familiar place, where longer hours in a constrained routine feels like the next phase of a deployment. Now I am constantly reminding myself, my family and my friends that we need to be vigilant in our distancing, masking and hand washing, because we are tired. It’s in these moments that we may become complacent and break from our routine, with adverse consequences and perhaps even an inability to sustain operations. What mattered most in the third month and beyond was ROUTINE, DISCIPLINE and SELF-CARE.

I keep reminding myself to stick with my routine.

What I returned to after deployment was always different from the place I left to begin a deployment. I had to relearn what the “now normal” looked like and felt like even when I returned home.

I now find myself wondering if my military training, along with what I experienced and learned, will guide me and others through what lies ahead. With each deployment, I had a pretty good idea of when I would transition from the “now normal” of operations in a foreign place to reintegration back into the routine I knew before deployment. While away, I sometimes allowed myself to believe I would go back to the way things were, when in fact nothing in life is static. I always returned to an evolved routine following deployment, because home continued to grow and evolve during my absence. What I returned to after deployment was always different from the place I left to begin a deployment. I had to relearn what the “now normal” looked like and felt like even when I returned home. What I think will once again matter most when we eventually transition to a post-pandemic society will be to OBSERVE, REACT and ADAPT.

As we continue to navigate the pandemic, we may have to stick to the routine, exercise discipline in our daily lives and practise self-care and care for others to maintain our well-being for a much longer period than I was accustomed to on a typical deployment of six months or a year. So I hope that, in order to maintain health, optimize well-being, maintain and protect our connections, and grow from the experience individually and collectively, we can benefit from military wisdom and experience and we can apply the tested and true ROUTINE, DISCIPLINE and CARE.

Russell Mann, Col (retd), OMM, MSM, CD, MBA, PMP, Family Research Consortium and Family Well-being Index, Vanier Institute of the Family

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