Back in my Army days, I was part of a Team, a Special Forces ‘A’ Team, to be more exact. We did a lot of training, carried a lot of weight over a lot of miles and built a great camaraderie together through the struggles. As I was thinking back to those days this morning on my walk, I thought how some of the lessons learned during that time correlate to present times. I was reminded of certain missions we conducted and one in particular stood out. This was a month long mission over in the Black Forest region of Germany. Our specially outfitted C130 aircraft lifted off from a clandestine air base in England a little before midnight one spring night in the 1980’s, flew across the English Channel and entered European airspace. As we neared Germany, the pilot dropped down to around 200 feet above ground (nap of the earth, as we knew it then) and we bounced around with the low level turbulence. Around 2:00 to 3:00 AM local time, we neared the drop zone. The only illumination was the red glow emanating from the jump lights. We began our pre-flight jump inspections, checking our chutes, checking our equipment, checking each other, and then the jump door to the aircraft opened. We all carried reserve chutes, though we knew that they were just excess baggage in this type of mission. Jumping at 400 to 500 feet, the mind was not able to process an unopened chute in time to deploy a reserve, let alone give it time to fill with air and soften a landing. If the main didn’t open, we were destined to rest in peace somewhere in the Black Forest region of Germany.
One aspect of a night jump is that it can be disorienting. One minute, you are standing at the open door of a C-130 looking at the isolated lights of houses shining through the darkness as you fly over and battling the deafening roar of the 130 turbo props; the next is silence and pitch black darkness as your chute deploys and you float to the ground, the C-130 disappearing into the distance. Each of our team on this mission was carrying 100 to 120 lbs of weight, a fairly stiff amount for an extended patrol to our first rendezvous point. Somewhere along the first leg of the journey, maybe an hour or so in, word came back to take a knee. ‘Taking a knee’, as we used to call it, was not necessarily the time for a break, but was more an opportunity to first quietly listen to your surroundings, become more situationally aware, possibly grab a quick sip of water and get ready for the next leg of the patrol. What one did not do during these times was to sit down. Training taught us to always be ready to move out. If you were simply resting on one knee, it was that much easier to pick up and go (as opposed to sitting and allowing the weight of the ruck to rest on the ground and give your shoulders a break). It was too easy to become complacent by sitting, too easy to drop your guard and allow an enemy to get too close.
As I think about where we are in the pandemic at this point, I am reminded of that time of taking a knee. For the past 6 months, we have been dealing with potentially the first leg of this pandemic journey. From our relatively stable lives in January and February, we were somewhat ‘thrown out the door’ in mid-March and entered unfamiliar territory of working from home amidst an enemy lurking in the shadows. Somewhat disorienting. As we hit the ground in late March and early April, we had to regroup and get our bearings in this new terrain, dealing with the weight and concern for not only our friends and loved ones, but also absorbing to some extent the weight of our customer’s and client’s issues. Through the past several months, we have steadily carried that weight on our backs, feeling the ache of the pressure in our shoulders and in our minds, as we worked to make it through the days of the summer surge.
Now, as we start to see the numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations decrease around the state, and in some parts of the country, we might be tempted to relax a little, take a seat and just revel in the perception that the worst is over. If the guidance from scientists and health experts proves to be accurate(See this article on guidance from Dr. Fauci – Fauci to Americans: “Hunker down” this Fall), that might turn out to be further from the truth. If the pandemic takes a turn for the worst this fall, we might be about to enter some of the more challenging months of the pandemic. Cooler weather and the progression into flu season could make the next 6 months some of the most critical times during our response and recovery from the virus. If the worsening conditions come to pass, now is not the time to take a seat, let down our guard and rest. Now would be the time to take a knee: Stay alert, increase the awareness of our surroundings and be prepared for responding to changes prompted by our enemy, the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Now would be the time for us to focus on increased vigilance to the Big 4: 1. Wear a cloth face covering/mask; 2. Social distance whenever possible; 3. Wash our hands according to accepted protocol; 4. Avoid touching our faces.
Business owners reading this article could consider preparing for a tough fall and winter. To use the analogy of a hurricane, the tropical depression is transitioning to a tropical storm and the expectation is that it will turn into a major hurricane at landfall (expected within the next 1-3 months). Now would be the time to make preparations for impact: Assess your food and water supplies in case you need to shelter in place for a time, assess your cash flow and conserve as much as possible going forward, decrease those expenses now, prepare your employees for some challenging times ahead. If things go bad in the coming months, significant numbers of your customers might feel this way and further avoid face to face transactions, not to mention a return of some of the mandated closures that might be expected. This past spring we had stimulus money that arrived fairly soon after the declaration through bipartisan support in Congress. That may very well not happen as rapidly in the coming months and a quote from the U.S. Navy SEAL’s may be very applicable. As they say, “Yesterday was the last easy day.”
There comes a point in any long mission where the physical discomfort and pain, sometimes the mental anguish, do not disappear, one just becomes a little less aware of their presence. Focus shifts from the discomfort of the current moment more to accomplishing the mission and surviving, on returning to some sense of normalcy after traveling in hostile territory. As we prepare in the next month or two to get ready for the next leg of our journey in this pandemic, we should begin thinking that as we get closer to our objective, the danger does not lesson, but only increases. As we begin the process of standing up from our bended knee and moving out in the next leg of this pandemic journey, getting the weight centered and adjusted on our back, taking that last drink of water before we get going again, we should reflect on the road we have traveled these past 6 months and begin to visualize the successful accomplishment of our mission (in this case, surviving the pandemic and lessoning the community spread as much as possible through our actions). We begin thinking, just for a brief second, of the point in the future at which, not only have we accomplished the mission we were assigned, but can hear off in the distance the welcome sound of the ‘wop-wop-wop’ of the helicopter rotors approaching, coming to pull us out of this hostile environment and bringing hope of a return to the new normal.
I wish you the best through this time and please continue to consider the UGA SBDC a welcome resource of business guidance in navigating in this unfamiliar terrain.
Until next time…
Mark R. Lupo, MBCP, SMP