By U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet
14 April 2020
Dear CNE/CNA/C6F Teammates,
As we continue to experience COVID-19 impacts across Europe and Africa and see the number of cases and deaths increase across the United States, we wanted to take a moment and "check in" with you, your teams, and your families. There is no question that we are all being challenged in our own ways to meet the new and unpredictable demands brought on by this pandemic. Your creativity, perseverance, and positive outlook have made a huge difference in the outcomes we are seeing, and we THANK YOU for your dedicated efforts in support of our mission and in protecting the health and welfare of our broad Navy community.
Our mission remains the same, to maintain maritime security and stability, while protecting the health and welfare of our people. Thanks to you, and our medical community, we are doing just that. You should be very proud of these efforts, as we continue to stand the watch alongside our Allies and Partners and deter those who may with to take advantage of the current global situation to advance their malign objectives.
While we continue to accomplish our mission, as leaders we also recognize that running in the background there is an increasing level of accumulated stress across the force and our families. Like you, we are parents, siblings, kids, nieces, nephews, cousins, and spouses. The unknowns that accompany COVID-19, coupled with our physical isolation, geographical separation, economic disruptions, and uncertain travel/PCS/advancement future present a tremendous set of challenges which clearly affects each of us in different ways. These challenges all pale in comparison to the losses back home that some of our teammates here are dealing with. Our hearts and prayers are with YOU in this time of need.
And that's what we want you to focus on - yourself, our people, and this aggregation of stress. You are the front line of defense; you are all leaders and teammates in some way. We need your help.
This is not an easy "ask," but, as a start, we need to do four things:
- Connect: Although we can no longer do the 5 minute "eyeball check" in person, we CAN creatively connect with our people at all levels. We must not let our guard down but rather continuously check on our people, particularly those in ROM or dealing with bad news from home. We must take the time and make the effort to check on our members; call them, text them, talk to them in the workspace, and assess their stress levels and emotional state and the same for their immediate family members. Monitor social media sites to ascertain when and where a word of encouragement might positively impact one who has articulated the strains and burdens associated with our current situation. Use your training and intuition to remain alert to signs that tell you when to reach out, engage, and get someone help - err on the side of caution, please. Be the conduit by which our Sailors, civilians, and families know that each person matters. Rank, Service, Community, Gender/Race/Religion do not give you immunity from stress - reach out at all levels... make no assumptions that someone is "ok."
- Share strategies: There are numerous strategies for making the best life you can right now given the restrictions we are facing. Establish a routine; stay socially connected while following physical distance (6 feet) guidelines; create deliberate COVID/Stock market news watching windows (i.e. twice a day, don't obsess); get exercise, get out in the sun/get Vitamin D; get enough sleep and eat well; encourage team sharing of challenges; create "me time"/time off; meditate/stretch/do yoga; divide and conquer shopping/cooking/schooling/laundry; be respectful of the "way" other people do things (don't sweat the small stuff); nurture relationships; avoid contributing to panic and watch out for negativity bias; have fun every day; communicate-communicate-communicate. It is very common to feel totally unproductive during this time - do not beat yourself - or others - up about it. In time, you will regain your footing and a clear vision for the future. None of this is intuitively obvious - encourage your folks to share what is working for them.
- Make resources available: This is a time when we need to encourage people to be honest about their feelings and fears, and guide them to the appropriate and available resources. No one has a "checklist" for managing COVID-19; we are in uncharted territory and this makes it even harder for many of us who are used to checklists and being in control. Chaplains, FFSC, School Nurse, Military One Source, Medical professionals, Deployed resiliency counselors, Embedded mental health, friend networks - all area readily available 24/7. Be observant and trust your gut: if you believe a friend, co-worker, family member, child is acting differently, seems preoccupied, etc., help guide them to the right resources. Without question, there are people on our team who are hurting, some more than others. The added burdens we all now face can drive feelings and perceptions of isolation, helplessness, and uncertainty to extreme levels. We must all be vigilant in our connectedness with our people as leaders and members of this community.
- Use common sense: If you hear of a policy that sounds overly bureaucratic or you have a better idea, do not be afraid to bring it to your chain of command or Fleet/C6F CMC. We may have a blind spot. We need to understand your challenges, concerns, and ideas.
From our perspective, the stark reality is that we are learning more about this silent and efficient enemy every day. It is becoming increasingly clear that for the time being we will need to develop strategies to live with it in our midst, and protect our people while doing so. Unfortunately, there will not be an immediate, wholesale return to "the way it was;" rather we will find a new way of life with COVID-19. We promise you that any changes to our posture will be scientifically-based, deliberate, sustainable, and aligned with the situation in each of our host and partner nation countries.
We are incredibly proud of YOU - our Sailors, our civilian teammates, and our families, and of your leadership during these last 6 weeks of relentless crisis management. This is a marathon, not a sprint, so stay strong, support each other, and adopt a sustainable pace. The way our Navy team responds to these challenges will shape what "normal" looks like in the months to come.
Thank you again for what you do, and please pass our thanks to your families and support networks for what they do to keep us ready, every day, to accomplish our mission and keep our people safe.