Modern military veterans have a complicated relationship with the phrase “thank you for your service.” On one hand, many of us don’t feel like we did anything special; hearing gratitude from civilians makes some of us feel a little uneasy.
On the other hand, modern veterans remember the disgraceful way that our Vietnam-era brothers and sisters were treated when they returned home from Southeast Asia fifty years ago. Today, we genuinely appreciate the recognition from the American public about the sacrifices we make.
In 2020, a new war, just as deadly as any war in American history, has come to American shores. But instead of bullets and bombs, it is being fought with ventilators and physical distancing.
As the late American author, Tom Clancy’s fictional captain Marko Ramius once said, “It’s a war with no battles, no monuments… only casualties.”
As of this writing, the world is in the midst of the worst pandemic in modern history. Despite social distancing measures implemented on a wide scale to slow the infection rate, daily new cases and daily deaths continue to increase exponentially.
The global economy has ground to a halt, with retail, travel and entertainment industries particularly hard-hit. Despite numerous contradictory forecasts and daily misinformation from elected leaders, there appears no end in sight at present.
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When this is all over, the societal scars of the COVID-19 pandemic will be visible for decades.
Heroics in the Face of Overwhelming Odds
And yet, the military has had, thus far, little to do during the COVID-19 outbreak. That’s not because we don’t want to get in the fight; rather, the battles in this new war are not being fought in Americans’ preferred warfighting domain, far from civilians. Instead, it’s being fought in hospitals all over the world.
Now, new heroes are emerging: civilian first responders, scientists, doctors and perhaps most importantly, nurses. According to a report by medical analyst Kent Sepkowitz, “Among the nine countries with the highest number of COVID-19 cases, the country that has the highest nurse rate also has the lowest death rate from the disease.”
The fact that more nurses result in lower COVID-19 death rates shouldn’t be surprising. Nurses are the backbone of any hospital system, especially intensive care units. Furthermore, a hospital system that recognizes the value of nurses is likely one that invests heavily in other technologies to improve patient outcomes.
In the Face of Severe Medical Supply Shortages, Nurses Are Increasingly Vulnerable
Nevertheless, nurses are feeling overwhelmed. Healthcare workers on the frontlines of this new war tell heart-wrenching stories of patients dying alone and of having to make excruciating decisions about who receives life-saving care because of equipment shortages. These shortages, quite frankly, were entirely preventable and their specter will hang like an albatross around the neck of the world’s preeminent economic and military power for years.
Many nurses feel like “lambs to the slaughter,” forced to treat patients with minimal protective equipment or worse, homemade equipment.
It is exactly because of this courage, performing their life-saving function while putting themselves and their families at risk, that we must celebrate nurses.
When this war is eventually won, thanks primarily to these unsung civilian heroes, we should build monuments in their honor. We should erect grand marble statues in Central Park or Washington D.C. that future children will point at, wide-eyed and with awe, acknowledging the sacrifices they made to save the nation from destruction.
Nurses are the “infantry” in this war, exhausted and battered, but waking up each day to do their part for the city, state and country they love. They also fight for each other, because, like the military, the love of your comrades is often stronger than fear.
As a former military servicemember, I am sitting this war out. Locked down and isolated, the best thing we can do to help our nurses is to stay home and not get sick. They desperately need time to procure more equipment and gain a foothold against a seemingly relentless enemy more cunning than any nurse should have to face.
We also need to speak with one voice when we say to our nurses, “Thank you for your service and thank you for your sacrifice.”
To the healthcare workers everywhere, when you are in the middle of a 42-hour shift, and there seems like no end in sight to new patients coming in the door, remember that a nation stands with you. We may be safely six feet away, but are ready to catch you if you fall.
This moment in history is yours. You are our heroes now and we, as a nation, thank you for your service.
U.S. Military Veterans
The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent InMilitary, American Military University or American Public Education.