Waking up and going to bed with the news right now is anything but pleasant. As a war veteran, I am not offended that many are comparing the current pandemic to a war. There are a lot of areas where the comparison is warranted and I wanted to discuss these today. We can only prepare so much for either situation as resources are always finite quantities and attitudes and preparation capabilities for either event vary greatly, resulting in disparities for different sides in their abilities to weather the situation.
For example, if we were faced with this crisis when we moved in our current home in January, the situation would have been monumentally more stressful. For those who interact with me both locally and via Instagram@she_wears_dogtags, I’ve previously shared how we were without a fridge the first week after our move. The new GE Cafe line fridge we purchased never worked. It was installed and never cooled down as a fridge should for proper food storage. During our week without a fridge, we were reliant on a chest freezer and pantry storage. We could not cook a large quantity of food because we were limited in our freezer storage and knew we would have to allow additional thaw time when pulling items from the chest freezer. The reality is though there are many people across the globe that do not have access to longterm food storage. Some are in this situation due to lack of housing and in other parts of the world smaller residences means one cannot accommodate full size appliances and pantry storage that are a frequent part of Western style living.
I think it is important to do a little compare/contrast between my first deployment and now to bring home the idea of the strain people are feeling currently.
I never feared going hungry on deployment and many people are worried now that there will not be enough food to cover their own needs. The purchasing power of the military equated to sufficient food for our service members and civilian contractors plus the Iraqis and third country nationals employed on base. We had breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight rations available to us. I may not have always had what I wanted available to me, but our chow hall had a diversity of protein sources, starches, fruits, and vegetables to hold us over. I could also shop at the PX trailer, picking up M&M’s, cookies, trail mix, and personal hygiene products.
People in the United States will be struggling, not only due to job loss or reduced hours, but also because this is what a number of stores look like right now.
I wanted to stick up for my generation for the moment though. I think it will take time–and we might never know–the true breakdown by ages of who decided to purchase in excess of their needs due to panic. Some might not want to reveal they hoarded all the toilet paper they could, while there are those coming to light who (horrifically) over purchased with the goal of profiteering off of others’ panic and/or true needs.
What I am hearing those are there are plenty of voices screaming that millennials are taking all the stuff on the shelves. Seriously?! There is not just one generation alone contributing to the mess we are seeing right now. It still blows my mind that in people’s frustrations, they are pointed fingers as this one age group without considering how each generation has a broad range of income diversity that leaves some with greater or less privilege to tend to their own needs in a crisis.
I also want to say my grocery shopping last Friday was pretty much a nightmare situation. I cannot remember when exactly we moved Gregor, our dog, from a kibble diet to a raw food diet, but there are times we grocery shop separately for his food and sometimes it is part of our regular grocery shopping trip. Knowing that raw food for him costs more, I have taken small steps here and there to reign in our weekly grocery shopping trips. From what we’ve learned from the news, I knew I had the responsibility to shop for roughly two weeks’ worth of groceries but the day before, my husband had a hard time finding meat on the shelves for Gregor. We had some things in our chest freezer, but my grocery shopping trip at Sprouts meant also keeping an eye out for chickens for Gregor. He eats approximately 3 and 1/2 lbs. of raw chicken and organs on a daily basis; his diet is balanced out with pork, fish, and sometimes eggs.
In sharing my grocery receipt–since Sprouts does not permit photography in its stores–please do not judge me. I want to highlight this is only approximately 2 weeks of groceries for us (and as I’m realizing a little bit more for snack bars!) and not even a full week of chicken for Gregor in case we can’t find anymore before our last grocery haul for him runs out. It cost us $345.04 for our area, so we’ll be more expensive than some parts of the country and significantly less expensive than other high cost areas. The bulk bins we normally shop for rice were nearly empty, but I still grabbed a few packages of less expensive pasta and I made sure to ask another customer if he needed a bag of rice before I grabbed the last two bags of jasmine rice I could find. Most of the bigger packages of cheaper chicken and beef were gone. It’s been roughly 5 years since I’ve purchased Cornish hens because they are $5.99 each, but I wanted to ensure we had a variety of protein and grabbed 3. I did not pick up any fresh fruit or vegetables, opting instead for frozen and canned items. Regarding cleaning products, I did not need much. I picked up some new sponges, a bag of laundry pods, and dish soap. I discovered that choice was a good decision when I saw the the decimated cleaning aisle at Target today. We still could not meet all our needs shopping in-person. Our situation required buying toilet paper online and after our box arrived, I learned the company, Reel, is now sold out like many other retailers.
It is still weird to see toilet paper completely gone from the shelves. I could find toilet paper with few concerns on my 2004 deployment in our port-a-johns and shower trailers although a wonderful woman named Alice from Operation Sand Flea mailed out a package of Charmin for me, because it was something I asked for.
Stepping a slight step away from the topic of food, when preparing for our meals on deployment, we also regularly practiced hand washing. Our service members would clear their weapons into weapons barrels, walking up in a relatively orderly line to hand washing stations and dispose of paper hand towels properly after washing our hands. I never imagined how often I’d hear the news inform people to wash their hands, but I’m loving the memes coming out left and right. We could all use a little extra humor in our lives right now.
On the next compare/contrast, let’s talk about workspaces.
My work from home situation is not relatively new as it is for numerous Americans. I’ve worked from home most days for almost two years. In our old house, my desk was set up in our spare bedroom. In our current home, one desk is set up in our spare bedroom and this desk at the top of our staircase. I don’t mind that the arrangement is not fancy, although over time, I plan on spreading our remaining collection of books, collectibles, and photo albums into other more permanent spaces in our home. It’s just not a priority right now. As a sign of the times we are in right now, on the lower left of the bookcase is a small stack of books borrowed from the public library. Our local library is shutdown to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, so there has not been a need to renew my books currently.
Again, I am repeating things people who have followed my journey for years know about me. I am not saying these things to undermine how people feel in their current strife whether it’s temporarily having to switch toilet paper brands, paying more for groceries, or finding a tiny closet to work from home. I am writing because I want to add to the conversation.
I was prepared to work in an austere war environments and yet, I never expected something as odd and equally devastating as COVID-19 to upend our way of life in the States. This situation is putting a lot of strain on medical personnel who will and are facing traumatic situations like they have never known. Businesses are constrained in their operational capacities and many individuals are finding themselves at risk for job loss, severe illness, and perhaps, premature death. This is one area where our military members and veterans have an advantage because we can reassure others we will stand by each other and also perhaps feel additional stress because it brings up difficult parts of their past. For me, I got used to being in a persistently dangerous environment and I knew my time in Iraq was stressful for my family back in the States. Now, the situation is reversed, minus the combat zone.
I am not unique in the fact I have family members who are considered more vulnerable to COVID-19. Some are older and some have underlying health conditions. I will be sitting on the sidelines of this situation much like they were all years ago when I served in Iraq. They waited for news from me that I was in good health and in relatively good spirits and now I do the same every day. Not surprisingly, we are again mostly communicating over social media and over the phone. Instead of Myspace and using an AT&T phone center, I now touch base over Facebook, Instagram, text messages, and probably a day here soon, video chat using FaceTime. Social distancing does not mean isolation in the truest sense of the world. My family is not alone in this battle and I want to remind you, neither are you.