By Daniel R., U.S veteran
It’s Labor Day, a day to recognize the contributions of the American worker, but you’re stuck with limited celebratory options thanks to COVID-19. Don’t worry, this isn’t a list of ‘Fun alternative summer activities to do on lockdown’ But I do sincerely hope you find a way to beat the monotony and enjoy your Holiday Weekend safely.
While I sit and sweat in my apartment, I can’t help but be brought back to another time when Labor Day was spent sweating profusely, feeling like just another day in a line of days leading nowhere, and how I learned to never succumb to monotony.
2008, Farah Afghanistan, roughly 50 miles from the Iranian border. The motto of our Navy lead Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), “Way out West.” My small team of Army communication and networking specialists, like all other groups in the PRT, worked six days on, with one day off. Of course, it was understood that all time off was conditional. At any moment, anyone could be called away from their hard-earned leisure time for any reason. All time off was mission dependent.
Life on our Forward Operating Base (FOB) was pretty stable. We did not face daily rocket or mortar attacks and no enemy combatants ever rushed our walls or even took potshots at us. Our small base was hardly bothered in ten months, which led to a sort of... boring deployment.
Unless we were counting down the days to mid tour leave, there was very little reason to mark the passage of time; Saturdays felt like Wednesdays and Mondays felt like any other day. If your duties did not bring you outside the wire frequently, shifts wore on until someone inevitably left or returned from leave, shaking up the schedule for the next several weeks.
Even major holidays were susceptible, Christmas and Thanksgiving ran the risk of feeling like every other day, unless great measures were taken to decorate work spaces and plan activities like fun runs and grilling. But if those festive measures couldn’t be made, the day would come and go like the rest.
Today, with most businesses shuttered and communities in various stages of re opening, It feels eerily similar. Living in the same place you work, only able to communicate with family remotely, and feeling the elongation of time.
In Afghanistan, the prescription for beating monotony and complacency was the same on Labor day as it was on LArbor day, as it was on Sunday, as it was on Monday, go to the gym, clean your weapon, hang out with your buddies, write a letter, clean your weapon, and call home. You probably noticed that I wrote, clean your weapon, twice. It’s that important.
Today, this prescription holds true as ever. If you’re feeling lost and aimless, put yourself on a schedule. Build that schedule, slowly if you need to, and fill it with the things that need to be done. Set aside time to clean and you will neutralize all guilt from walking past that pile of what should have been put away three weeks ago.
When you set aside time to do these tasks, you’ll also avoid feeling overwhelmed, because you’ll have a finish line. If you schedule yourself one hour to transfer your floor-drobe to the closet, even if you don’t finish in time, you’ll see how much progress you’ve made, and you can feel good about progress.
One great thing about Afghanistan, thanks to our reserve Infantry unit, we had all the ammunition we could ever want and for once in my life, I was allowed to shoot to my heart’s content. Of course all this meant lots of weapon cleaning, which, of course, I had scheduled into my day, and counted as my leisure, but I’ve always enjoyed cleaning my weapons.
When you carry a weapon down range, even if most of your time is spent on base, it’s going to get dirty. It doesn’t matter how many days go between cleanings, how often you fire it, or how long you spent behind the wire. If you have nothing to do, you should probably clean your weapon.
Like any other mission in the military, you need to start with a good plan. Rubberized T-Rex Gun Mats from Dinosaurized come with detailed diagrams of your weapon system, helping to ensure that you never lose a part.
Unroll your slick T-REX Gun mat and the work of disassembling, scraping, picking, and CLP-ing is practically done! Okay, maybe not. But you’ll have no choice but to be organized, which can transform the cleaning process from a scattered mess to an orderly relaxing and enjoyable activity. .
If you know the panic of getting a bolt carrier back together only to realize you have no idea where your retaining pin is, then working on a clearly labeled Gun Mat is your best solution. These mats detail and label every part inside your weapon, giving you a place to keep your small parts while they wait their turn for your attention.
Keep your freshly cleaned and lubed parts from picking up sand and crud on the ground and take your weapons cleaning game to the next level. The only problem with these mats, is going to be telling your squadmates, “No, you can’t use just a little corner.”