Here’s How Military Training Helps Veterans Who Work in Healthcare Face COVID-19.
The served in Iraq, and now they serve as first responders and nurses.
Does military training help healthcare workers face COVID-19? According to three Marines who served in Iraq, the answer is yes. These veterans are on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak, and it’s what they learned in the military that is carrying them through.
Semper Gumby: time hacks and flexibility.
Matthew Groth, an ICU nurse at two different Chicagoland hospitals, served as a gunner in the Marines. He believes the Marines prepared him for anything. “I feel that everything that I’ve ever done in the Marine Corps has translated into everything that I face.”
One favorite skills is finding time hacks. “So, why does the Marine Corps wake you up at zero stupid 30 in the morning and make you get dressed 100 times? They tell you ‘Hey recruits, you have five seconds. Put your left sock on right now.’ Then they’ll start counting down 5–4–3–2–1 and if you don’t make it, you take off your sock and start again. Usually, nobody understands the reason why getting dressed, or making your bed early in the morning matters. But it eventually matters, because if you have a time hack, that could be related in combat when you have an objective to make.”
He uses this kind of approach in his work as a nurse. Time hacks are part of the “Semper Gumby” motto he learned. “Guys in the Marine Corps are always saying, ‘Hey Semper Fi,’ but a lot of people don’t know about Semper Gumby. Just adapt and overcome, because you have to be super flexible. I mean Gumby, the big green guy.”
That flexibility has helped as his hospitals have switched to novel models of nursing. He’s adapting, but it’s still hard. “We have already seen many deaths in both hospitals and it surely is taking a toll on the staff,” says Groth. The hardest part is when, “Young and healthy people are coming in with no comorbidities and then being sent out into the refrigerator. I don’t want to bring this home to my kids.”
Jason Wood is an ER nurse in New Lenox, IL. He served with the Marines in Iraq in 2003, a time he describes as “real bad.” “We were in this area just southwest of Baghdad. They called it the triangle of death.”
In Wood’s opinion, there is no way to train someone to face life threatening conditions. “But I think when somebody is trained enough with their tools, and they feel confident in their tools, then that fear kind of goes to the wayside. Because you’re confident.” For Wood, it’s not the training, it’s the discipline. “You learn that discipline and then you know, it sticks with you and you can kind of resource it as you need.”
He is not afraid of getting COVID-19, but he does worry for his kids. “We’ve got a 10 month old and a three-year-old. I couldn’t even live with myself if I if my one of my kids got it, it would be unbearable.”
At his own hospital, he noticed that many fellow nurses were upset when they were told to reuse their N95 masks, a practice which increases their risk of being infected by COVID-19. But for him, it felt like being in the Marines. “There were times in Iraq that we were running low on food. It’s just the way it was. You learn to make those sacrifices. You don’t question it. You know, in the Marines, you don’t question anything. You’re not allowed to.”
But does that military discipline make him more likely to put up with things when he should not? His wife, an ICU nurse herself, thinks so. “I think there is a little bit of truth to it… But, if I feel like something is dangerous, I will speak up and say something. The military teaches you to be obedient and not question things. But my experience as a nurse has taught me to be conscientious and always question things.”
Critical thinking under pressure.
Kevin Manusos was also a gunner for the Marines in Iraq, and is now a paramedic-firefighter in Rockford, IL. “I think my military training helps me keep calm and collected under pressure. And you know, I feel like I do best under stressful situations,” he says.
Manusos explains that in boot camp, “Getting yelled at brings you to a stress level you’re not comfortable with. You actually get used to that stronger stress response.” He explains that these exercises gave him practice thinking clearly under pressure. “I think if you did well in combat, if you could mentally handle the stress, you would transition well into stressful situations anywhere.”
But does he feel afraid of responding to scenes where he may be exposed to COVID-19? “Yes, I smoke and I was reading that there is much, much higher risk for severe complications. I am working on quitting.” It’s different now that he’s a father. “In Iraq, I was 19 and I wasn’t married and have any kids… You’re 19 and kind of stupid. It would help to be 19 and stupid right now.”
Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.