Last week journalist Marina Hyde highlighted the increasing use of a military vocabulary for the COVID-19 crisis. She was right. Journalists and politicians talk about fighting, winning – and battles still to come. However, what struck me is that the people not using these words are the military themselves.
Talking on Radio Four’s Today programme, General Sir Nick Carter, Head of the UK’s Armed Forces, answered Martha Kearney’s questions about the role of the military in this crisis directly. There was no playing to the crowd. No waffle. It was refreshing.
The UK’s Armed Forces will act in support of the government, to help them get things done. But they won’t be getting in the way of the day-to-day relationships of those they back-up, whether they are working with local authorities, prison services or care homes. It’s what the military does so well. They are reliable, trustworthy and straightforward. They focus on the outcome, not telling everyone how brilliant they are.
Meanwhile their families have also developed a no-nonsense approach. Service families are used to difficult situations. General Carter advised that for the Forces this will be like an ‘operational tour’.
Forces families understand what this involves. It’s a period of time for which they are trained, prepare emotionally, deliver – and then come home.
What is not so widely understood is that many Forces families are already halfway through this process. Some of those being redeployed to work on the COVID-19 situation are already locked into an emergency tour somewhere else, separated through a training course or gone ahead for an impending move. So new commitments will be added onto what is already happening. Every Service family understands this. We have got used to the unexpected occurring, and having to adjust.
Our general resilience is often talked about, but it’s something we have learned, not a quality that is innate – and our children have to develop it from scratch. So for those who find the current situation overwhelming, there are perhaps two coping strategies that we can recommend.
Firstly, support each other. The bonds that develop between Forces families are incredibly strong. They last for years after leaving. The times when you were worried or alone, and someone else supported you, are never forgotten.
Secondly, keep busy. Which is where Reading Force comes in. In the first week of April we had as many requests for our special scrapbooks as we had in the whole of March, and March was double what we had in February. And one third of the April requests were from families who have a loved one already away.
Right now, we’ve certainly got a struggle on our hands. And it’s worldwide. But any ‘fighting’ that we do will work best if it’s through collaborating, sticking to procedures that will keep everyone safe – and genuinely caring for everyone. It’s common sense, not rocket science.
Alison Baverstock, Founder of Reading Force