I was asked about mentally dealing with deployments recently. That is a pretty broad question so I will do my best to cover it. Also I hope that through comparison and examples some insight can be gained to dealing with various survival scenarios an average citizen might find themselves in.
For background I am currently deployed to Afghanistan and have previously deployed to Iraq. Also every deployment is different. Some deployments are very kinetic (read lots of fighting and violence) and others are not, most are somewhere in the middle. Even for those involved in little to no violence the whole deployment thing is a pretty weird phenomenon of totalitarian control, social depravation, strange geography and weather. Whatever experiences people have pass through the filter of their personality (a sum of their background, skills, experiences, religion, etc) and there is an output. The end result is that people are affected in profoundly different ways, even by the same experiences.
In my experience if actual war was a video game nobody would buy it. The ratio of time spent doing monotonous tasks or boring repetitive duties (guard shifts, patrols, etc) vastly outweighs the time spent engaging or being engaged in combat. I would say this is true pretty much everywhere; it is just a question of what the ratio is. I believe this was true in previous wars though it manifested itself in a different way. In the current operating environment there are no front lines but contact is sporadic. A base or organization will keep doing the same thing and occasionally take contact. What people don’t see from the headlines is that for most people, in most places the average day is pretty quiet. When you hear some BN Commander on the news or in an article saying they are taking contact every day what doesn’t get mentioned is that all it means is that one of their numerous patrols got shot at, IED’ed or whatever. You can safely figure on at least 3 line companies and an HHC per BN. In each of the line companies there are probably 3 platoons and an HQ section. That is a lot of different pieces of a large organization. In short PVT Snuffy is not getting in a gunfight every single day. Now previous wars (specifically pre ‘Nam) had more clear cut front lines with more activity but units rotated in and out. The end result was probably somewhat comparable or at least within the same range.
Somebody once described war as long periods of complete boredom with random short periods of terror. I think that is half accurate. In my personal experience things happen so fast that you don’t have time to get scared. All the BS aside our training is pretty darn good and we know the right thing to do. We react to a given event quickly and with little thought. You are just acting and reacting until it is over. Later on the ‘what if’s’ and ‘if not for’s’ can haunt you if you let them. Dealing with the aftermath is far more difficult than the actual events. Like we talked about earlier, different people handle things differently and some profoundly worse than others. I don’t see a lot of reason to stress or worry. I do everything I can to be ready and to make the best decisions possible and if something happens, well that is that. I’m not fatalistic or anything like that but I don’t find much usefulness in stressing things I can’t control. You can the baddest dude alive and if you are in the shower and a rocket lands on it your race is run.
Now we will go onto the topic of staying sane over here. Finding ways to fill your time and mentally escape in a healthy way is essential. Lots of folks work out, pumping iron, running or whatever suits them. Some play lots of video games or read. A few take collect classes if their schedule and internet connectivity allow. Most have a laptop and an external hard drive full of TV and movies.
I find that human beings are far more adaptable than we give ourselves credit for. We can get used to just about anything. As for staying sane personally I work out a lot, watch tv and movies, talk to wifey as much as I can and do some reading. As with most things in life having a healthy perspective helps a lot.
Relationships are a hard one. There are all sorts of stressors that mercilessly seek out dysfunctional relationships. Shallow marriages and relationships typically based solely on sex fall apart. Women cheat at home and men find ‘love’ over social networking sights. Deployments do a good job of weeding out the dysfunctional (of which there are many but that is a whole nother post) military marriages. To be fair the added stress and distance also destroys some that would have probably been fine otherwise.
Adapting your expectations down is important. Everything here pretty much sucks but the least sucky things are by default pretty nice. I think finding the happiness in little things here is so important. A good cup of coffee or a hot shower, maybe a nice sunset or view now and then. Some of the best times are when you actually forget that you are here. The other day I was eating some chex mix and watching the Soprano’s on my computer and it could have easily been a random Weds night at home. Today I was in a great spontaneous political/ current affairs conversation with a group of guys. I looked at my watch and 3 hours had gone by. I couple have easily been in a restaurant or a quiet bar on a lazy afternoon. If you can’t find some things that make you at least relatively happy you are in serious trouble because there will definitely be plenty of things that stress you out.
There are of course endless negative things people can do here. The usual spectrum of derelict/ criminal behavior is present. Some folks turn to drugs or alcohol (also huffing canned air is a random and dangerous trend) to escape. Some folks stop caring or let their emotions get the best of them and get into all sorts of trouble. Folks get complacent and start doing stupid things. Others get into all sort of dysfunctional situations trying to get some kind of emotional closeness or just strait up looking to get laid. Some folks for whatever reason just can’t seem to deal with it.
How does this all relate to survival scenarios? I think they relate pretty directly. I think there will be a variety of different situations for individuals but most won’t be the absolute worst or a piece of cake. I think different people in the same relative situation will deal with it very differently. That is just the start. Also I think survival scenarios are going to have the same, if not a lower ratio of boring to violent events, very low. Especially in common events such as natural disasters, storms and power outages where you won’t all of a sudden start a huge garden or need to cut a winter’s worth of firewood boredom is a big factor. This is where a stash of cards, board games and books, to include light easy reading type stuff is so important.
There will be a lot of boring routine work and every day challenges for every significant event. One thing about deployments is that there is a definite (if floating) light at the end of the tunnel. I know that at roughly next winter we will redeploy and I will go back to a better place. Most survival situations, except the really dark ones, will have that same benefit.
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