The Depot

  • COVID-19: Hold My Beer
  • Author avatar
    Steven Alvarez

COVID-19: Hold My Beer

A few weeks ago, this weekly blog would have started with an introduction about who I am and why I think you should read my posts, but Murphy as we all know always has other plans and today, I find myself joining the cacophony of those writing about COVID-19.

Last week I received an e-mail from U.S. Army Human Resources Command asking me if I was willing to return to duty to help the nation in the response to COVID-19. I replied to the e-mail within seconds as I’m sure thousands of other military retirees did, each of them raising their hands albeit but virtually. Send me. I doubt I will get the call since I’m not a person with a critical skill set, but just in case I have a razor handy and I’m hitting the treadmill.

In the immediate aftermath of 9-11, first responders became the reluctant heroes of that catastrophe. These days, COVID-19 has placed a cape on the backs of medical professionals, delivery drivers, warehouse workers, grocery store employees and others. Bravery comes unexpectedly and suddenly and we are never fully prepared for what it is that we will do when fate comes to reckon. But like the brave men and women on United Airlines Flight 93, around the nation Americans like those aboard that flight are making life and death decisions and confronting this invisible threat which has already claimed the lives of thousands of people.

In response to COVID-19, many everyday Americans are experiencing for the first time in their lives, what members of the armed forces face routinely—death, high-stress environments, uncertainty, isolation, danger, self-sacrifice, and a lack of resources. The difference is that those of us who served, and those who are still serving, signed up for all of the drama that comes with military service. We embrace the suck, as we like to say, mostly because we asked for it and it is a source of twisted pride amongst those in the military. Draftees too embraced it and made the best of things.

In the military, we compete with each other over which branch has it worse. Then within the services, we get even more granular in our arguments, certain military occupations have it worse than others and the harder the duty, the more respect that is garnered or expected. Even within a career field, there is hierarchical jockeying. A few months ago, my son’s youth group visited an Army aviation unit and there was friendly competition about who flew the better or more important helicopter.

In recent weeks I’ve seen the response to COVID-19 compared to war and right on cue the outrage from veterans began. Just today I heard a news anchor say that medical professionals are charging bravely up a hill in a fight against COVID-19. For a 24-year veteran like me, I reflexively think of the U.S. Army’s May 1969 fight on Hamburger Hill in Vietnam and I admit, an internal war starts as I struggle to liberate my mind of cynical thoughts.

The president has joined the fray and he has referred to himself as a wartime president. I’ve found myself comparing him to FDR, but it is an apples to oranges comparison. People being interviewed on television are saying things like “It looked like a war zone” when they describe any COVID-19 landscape and I wonder to myself if their assessment is based on experience. Suddenly every reporter is a war correspondent using words like combat, fight, war, battle, and other terms that evoke strong emotions from veterans. But vets, we need to control our emotional response to the current climate. We need to avoid the “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt,” know-it-all mentality that is often affixed to us when it comes to a crisis. That’s what the word “veteran” actually means, “A person who has long experience in a particular field.”

As veterans, we should not be using our military experiences to make others uncomfortable by marginalizing their fears and minimizing contributions. I’ve seen it going on in social media circles and I’ve discussed this with military buddies. We should not be elevating our stature during this crisis as though we are greater than what is happening, as if we are the wise person atop the mountain having attained some type of wisdom only military people can acquire. Veterans, we are not more enlightened or anointed by some experiential being simply because we have worn a uniform or gone off to war.

Instead of looking critically at what our friends, family and neighbors are saying and doing, we should be the steady voice of reason and calm. We should not be divisive. The same way that we came together in the ranks, regardless of race, religion, gender, to achieve objectives and complete a mission, we should help combat this invisible enemy. The nation has a different mission for us.  

When others are panicking, help ease their fear by sharing statistics from the CDC, not data you picked up from some meme. When you see someone spreading misinformation online, reassure and re-center them with factual information. Nobody wants to hear a “No shit, there I was …” story. It has no relevance to a parent who is happy that the grocery store is open so they can feed their kids. Similarly, your war stories about how you ate dirt for six months in a foxhole do not matter to the software engineer whose company might collapse. For most Americans, the COVID-19 outbreak is the epic crisis of their lives. This a war they never signed up to fight and like some of us have done, they are making it up as they go along. Let's help them.

I admit, regrettably, that initially I cringed when I heard the word “hero” being used to describe grocery clerks and stocking personnel because I associated that term with names like Desmond Doss and Rafael Peralta, men who placed their lives on the line for their fellow brothers in arms. My views have since evolved.

Can medical professionals, grocery store employees, delivery drivers and others who are keeping our economy and people alive die just by going to work? Emphatically, yes. A person is no less a hero because they died from a virus trying to care for the sick and not from a sniper’s bullet in war. A person is not less brave because they go to a domestic job and risk exposing themselves to a virus that can kill them as opposed to driving in a convoy in a war zone.

Veterans, let’s be the people that our nation needs us to be. Muster the patience to refrain from judgment. Avoid acting as if you know how this will all end because the truth is you do not. Be a good battle buddy and wing man and let your friends, family and neighbors know that you’re all in this fight together and that you are in their corner with sponge and bucket. Help people prepare for the worst, but keep the morale high in your circles. Discuss what you can do for those close to you if something happens to them. Ensure they know you will take care of their family. Ensure there is a plan for your family as well. The military is a team of teams. Our communities are no different. They need you.

Veterans have a legacy of resiliency, a standard of grit that is passed down, generation to generation, started long ago by a ragtag group of idealistic rebels with muskets. Let’s live up to that legacy.

Like that ragtag group, the battlefield is our backyard. Let’s step up and show people not that we know it all and not that their fears are unfounded, instead let’s show them through leadership and support, and not criticism, what it means to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. And let’s ensure we’re being real too and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. You might be veterans or still serving, but you don’t have all the answers because none of you, zero, has ever been through something like this before. None of you have fought a worldwide pandemic of this magnitude.

Right now, my sixth-grade son is wailing on his clarinet. He is playing America the Beautiful and it is off key and other times pitch perfect. How apropos. As the sun fades through my window, the music screeching in the background, I’m thankful, as I was in Iraq, that I get to see the sun go down another day and tomorrow when I wake up I will think that all I have to do is get through another day. Another day and I’m closer to home.

And I can’t help but think about the letter Rafael Peralta wrote to his brother the night before he died in Fallujah. “Be proud of me, bro … and be proud of being an American.”

Let’s embrace the suck, people. Let’s do this.

Hold my beer.

  • Author avatar
    Steven Alvarez

Comments on this post ( 36 )

  • May 12, 2020

    Thank you. Very well said

    — Bob Caffrey

  • May 07, 2020

    Really, really good message and really important. As someone who works with horses and veterans, I understand that not all trauma is not the same, but when one’s nervous system is flooded, resources are in short supply and too many things are happening at once, people have a hard time settling down and making sense of things…no matter the cause. You all have a TREMENDOUS wealth of expertise and experience to share. You may be the ONLY people who understand. Listening, supporting and offering to keep mis-information at bay is a fabulous use of your talent and skill. Thank you for writing this….

    — Jane A Strong

  • Apr 26, 2020

    I am a Paramedic relic about 35 years in and with both Airforce and Navy under the belt, neither service was better then the other and I deployed with the Marines and sometimes ARMY and Costies, Everyone has good and bad and all seemed to embrace the “Suck” (Costies had the best food). However I was told I was bored a few years ago in retirement by my now boss, and took a job with a local Ambulance Service. This Ambulance Service really is embracing the suck, CoVid already got a few of us, most alive but a few deaths in the system and I think we are all infected but operational. I am old and keep going to work because someone needs to and you know what, so does all of the younger EMS Crew and they could quit at any time, These are some of the bravest persons I have known and they are picking up known CoVid Positives all the time. I really like the post and I will hold your beer if you hold mine.

    — Kenneth A Hoffman

  • Apr 26, 2020

    Great message. Godbless all Veterans!

    — Arnold

  • Apr 26, 2020

    Impactful message, Steve, thanks much.
    Vietnam volunteer 50 years ago as a FAC for SOG, flying a little Cessna, out over “the Trail” in Laos. Exciting work.
    My first hour back from Vietnam, travelling with a Green Beret, we got challenged to a fight in an airliner.
    Great welcome home — it sticks with you.
    Now, that’s ancient history.
    I served for 30 years under seven presidents.
    Please allow me to respond to Mark’s comment.
    I think the POTUS is doing very well for, (1) being under constant “friendly fire” since he was elected, (2) being given expert guidance by experts that are still doing their best to cover their hind quarters, (3) being under constant sniper fire from the MSM with their semi-automatic COVID-19 rifles, while (4) the other political party is setting out the claymores at ever turn in the road (while using the covering MSM sniper fire.)
    He is our POTUS and needs our support just as well as our fellow citizens need our support.
    All the Best!

    — Buz

  • Apr 26, 2020

    Thank you,

    — Arnold

  • Apr 25, 2020

    Amen Brother, Amen

    — Floyd Jamison

  • Apr 25, 2020

    Your heartfelt message could be from any one of the thousands of us survivors, most of whom stayed in the military because we loved what we did, and yes I can recall the intense rivalry, especially in the NCO Clubs, I at one time being banned from the Army’s.
    Ride on bro…Your message of fact over rumor and the plea to be cool is exactly right on….thank your for your service, even if it was in the Army…

    — Phili Ward, SPECOPS MSgt (ret)(1951-1971)

  • Apr 25, 2020

    HOOAA!!

    — Jerry L Caruthers

  • Apr 25, 2020

    Very well said!
    I must add that I am thankful that I never had to serve under a President * who is so out of touch!
    Ban together and we shall get through this!

    — Mark

  • Apr 25, 2020

    Where do I sign up? I don’t know if my Specialty Code is critical but my eyesight is still good enough to plug a thirst fighter. even though I am 72 years old. I was a boom operator on KC-135’s.

    Send me.
    Leonard S.Johnson, Jr.

    — Len Johnson

  • Apr 25, 2020

    Thanks for writing this, Steve! Its the first thing I’ve read since this mess started that makes sense. Real leadership, not endless crybabies all saying the same thing. Encouraging all to measure up and support each other whether we like them or not. Exactly what we need now.

    — Laurence Tobey

  • Apr 25, 2020

    I want to let you know your article is shared through my Facebook account. Well written and many should have a chance to read it.

    “Came across this article – found it very insightful and inspiring. Just a bit of disclosure, my attention span isn’t long when it comes to reading that is not work related or not written by my circle of family and friends.

    Bravo Mr. Steven Alvarez – great message and to a commendable spirit. Holding my beer up for you!"

    — CJ

  • Apr 25, 2020

    I want to let you know your article is shared through my Facebook account. Well written and many should have a chance to read it.

    “Came across this article – found it very insightful and inspiring. Just a bit of disclosure, my attention span isn’t long when it comes to reading that is not work related or not written by my circle of family and friends.

    Bravo Mr. Steven Alvarez – great message and to a commendable spirit. Holding my beer up for you!"

    — CJ

  • Apr 25, 2020

    OoohRa brother,
    USNavy Desert Storm Vet,
    Too old to go back in, but I’m an RN now so I loaded up and deployed myself to New Jersey, now knee deep in the crap and doing my part again, it feels good. To all my brothers and sisters out here on the lines, watch your 6 and be safe, when this is done hoist a drink.
    Thank you all!!!
    ML 2 Fish, Wesley W, RN

    — Wesley Fish

  • Apr 25, 2020

    If they would ask I’d go back in to help in a heartbeat. Alas, they might say that at 73 I am too old but, in my mind, I still see that infantry squad leader humping the boonies with my guys—the best of the best. Since my uniforms don’t fit any longer the Army would have to spring with new duds. Other than that we are good to go. Go Vets!

    — Patrick M McLaughlin

  • Apr 25, 2020

    Hurrah! Thank you for your service.
    From the wife of a retired military member.

    — Dianna

  • Apr 25, 2020

    As a veteran of both the military and law enforcement I have
    never heard service to community and nation expressed better.
    There are many different types of courage displayed everyday
    by average americans called upon to do above average things
    because a crisis warranted it. The author is wise beyond his 24
    years.

    — John McQuain

  • Apr 25, 2020

    4 years a soldier and 30 years a cop. You are right on, Brother.

    — Robert De Groff

  • Apr 25, 2020

    Not only am I a veteran of 25 years, but also a medical provider as well. Thank you Steven Alvarez, for this great piece. I could not have said things better. We can help to show some leadership, support, and be “in the fight again.” God bless you sir, and everyone in the fight.

    — Brian

  • Apr 25, 2020

    Thanks. I needed this blog post today. Raised my spirits immensely. I will forward on to fellow veterans and government employees who sacrificed a lot in the post-9/11 wars.

    — Donald Gordon

  • Apr 25, 2020

    One of the best, possibly the most succinctly written statements about what we should expect of ourselves and how we Veterans can be of help to our families, friends and fellow Americans.

    We Veterans are not all brave, stalwarts and I’ve seen many who huddled in panic at the sound of an incoming siren and refused to come out of a bunker having never seen an impact or dealt with the aftermath. But as a group by and large, we’ve faced adversity, uncertainty and have something to offer other than ego, and although I do enjoy it, sarcasm. Be bigger than that.

    Great article, wish I could share it on FB

    — Randal Underhill

  • Apr 25, 2020

    Very thoughtful comments. I hope my fellow vets aren’t among those attending rallies protesting business closure and stay at home orders – like the man said, we need to show by example how important it is to prevent this virus from spreading while we expand testing and work on treatments and vaccines.

    — mark armstrong

  • Apr 25, 2020

    Well stated and a great reminder to re-evaluate our understanding of the SitRep. Hooyah!!

    — Mark

  • Apr 25, 2020

    From a retired SMsgt, and 29 year Civil Air Patrol volunteer, on behalf of our Cadet Corps, and Senior members….. Thank You for your words of WISDOM. I think I’m permitted these words….. SEMPER FI!

    — Jerrold Terhaar

Leave a comment