Advancing Life & Work

Life in the time of COVID-19 – What the Military taught me

Military month 2020.jpg


During these times of shelter-in-place, I find myself reminded of my two deployments overseas with the U.S. Coast Guard. While the situations are different, there are quite a few parallels. 

This could be worse
There was risk involved protecting a port in Kuwait, but this was not deployment in a combat zone. Currently, we live through a serious pandemic, but we are not experiencing the danger and struggles civilians in a war zone do.

Look out for your shipmates
I worked with people from many diverse backgrounds. I would never have met many of these amazing men and women if I had not joined the Coast Guard. No matter where we came from, we were a team. These last weeks I have been checking in with coworkers, fellow ERG members, neighbors, friends, and family much more often, and they have done the same for me.

Plan the mission
For every mission, every day and week we had a plan. It helps establish a routine. Our son is home now taking online classes and we have regular work and study hours. While we don’t have a formal plan, we work our noisy home improvement projects around our son’s test schedule. We go grocery shopping when it’s least busy and my military decontamination training has been very useful.

Harden the target
We could not 100% protect the port and ships, but several measures were in place to make an attack more difficult and less likely. There is no guaranteed protection against the virus, but distancing, washing hands, wearing a mask, etc. reduce the risk.

Stay fit
The military required me to pass a fitness test and weight standards. Food and sleep were ‘tactical’ necessities to stay alert out on the water all day. I jog every morning before work and exercise in the living room. Working from home, it is easy to get stuck in front of the screen. I use a timer to remind me to get up at least once every hour. Based on a recommendation from a doctor and former medic, I am enjoying hot lemon water.

Pamper yourself
One of my best deployment memories is a body wash someone donated. I could easily get toiletries but this one was simply wonderful. Now I bake scones for the weekend. We have visited our favorite “French Place”, designated by a sign in our kitchen, and the “Italian Café” - same place, different sign.

Special days, extra special
I will never forget Mother’s Day morning at Camp Devil Dog, eating MREs while sitting on the wet grass outside my hut. Or the St Patrick’s Day run I sacrificed my sleep to get the T-shirt. When the neighbor’s son across the street turned 12, they had a huge lawn sign. Friends drove by in their cars, honking and holding signs. I bet he will never forget his 12th birthday.

Get creative with the kids
My son was 5 when I went to boot camp. I made him a card for every day I was gone. When he was 10, I drew pictures for him, and we played online games when I got back from duty at 1 am. Kids are resilient. He may not have always gotten dinner at a regular time, but spent quality time with dad at home depot. Now he is 19 and also joined the Coast Guard. The other day we went running in our swimwear during a downpour.

Make your own sunshine
Our boat crews made a dance video while in uniform. I invited myself to a tour of a Kuwaiti Coast Guard ship. On black flag days, I went running to the pier and back. Then and now I have kept busy with crafts. I ordered drones online and with our Lego ships am simulating search and rescue in our living room.

Embrace the suck
I had to say good-bye to a screaming 5-year-old. Sometimes I was so tired I fought to stay awake while driving the boat. My grandpa used to say “Life is harsh but unfair”. So I deal with shortages, the uncertainty, and my 401k taking a deep dive.

Write it down
While deployed, I took pictures and notes. When I got back, I created an album. It helped process my experiences. I am sending pictures and stories to my family back in Germany every week. In years to come, we’ll hopefully look back and laugh at these crazy times.

Honor the fallen
Every day I thought of those who had fallen. I still do. I make a point to read their names, find out who their families are, and pray for them. Today there are COVID-19 deaths every day. As a human being that touches and grieves me. I take a moment every day to remember them.

Control what you can
I still had a mission to do. I had a choice to get bogged down by the bad news or pour my energy into escorting ships and enforcing security zones. Now I am sewing masks for our family, friends, and neighbors. Our VERN ERG has reached out to veterans and is donating desperately needed groceries. There are plenty of opportunities to do good.

Freedom is not free
Freedom requires sacrifice. I was willing to leave my family to protect them, and become part of something bigger than myself. I try my best to be considerate of my fellow citizens, store clerks, healthcare workers, and the elderly. This is not only about myself.

Be grateful
I was blessed to do my part, however small. During these times I am grateful to have security, a home, food, and running water. I get to spend time with my family. Spring has been beautiful. Roses are blooming. Bad things happen, but I do know good can come out of it. We can be part of that goodness, together.

About the Author:

Ute Kavanaugh, Cloud Solutions Engineer at Hewlett Packard EnterpriseUte Kavanaugh, Cloud Solutions Engineer at Hewlett Packard EnterpriseUte supports our customers as a Pointnext Software and Center of Excellence (CoE) Solutions Engineer and is the VERN Roseville Communications Officer.

She started with HP Germany, transferred to Roseville, CA in 1997 and enlisted in the Coast Guard in 2005. Her husband Kay-John, HPE Field Services, is a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Their son Lukas is a Cadet at the Coast Guard Academy.

Stay connected to Ute via LinkedIn. Learn more about Hewlett Packard Enterprise Military Veteran's Program and join our team today! 

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About the Author


Michael drives the strategies that foster an inclusive experience for HPE employees and diversify our workforce to position the company for success today and tomorrow.