ARLINGTON, Va. – As COVID-19 continues to affect almost every aspect of daily life, incorporating specific ways to build resiliency has never been more important, said the Army National Guard's chief chaplain.
"Resiliency is just a way to strengthen the spirit, if you will, in the way we do our work and engage with people," said Chaplain (Army Brig. Gen.) Kenneth "Ed" Brandt, adding that he's been impressed by the way National Guard members have been carrying out response efforts.
"Our Soldiers and Airmen are doing incredible things," he said. "We are facing something we have never faced before in our lifetime. This is an epic moment in our lives and it's an epic moment in the life of the National Guard."
However, with almost 41,600 Guard members responding throughout the country, the scale and scope of response efforts can also begin to wear on Soldiers and Airmen, testing their resiliency, said Chaplain (Army Lt. Col.) Timothy Bourquin, with the Rhode Island Army National Guard.
"We might be concerned about our own health, the health of our family," he said. "We might be concerned about the mission and who we are in contact with."
Those are all valid concerns, said Bourquin, but it can also be easy to fixate on them and focus on the negative.
"As humans, we have a tendency to remember the negatives more than the positives," he said. "It's called the negativity bias."
That's why it's important to take time to focus on the positives, said Bourquin.
"It's really easy to go down the slippery slope of negativity," he said. "We need to stop it and think more about the positive."
And there are many positives out there, said Bourquin.
"There's positive all over, if you look for it," he said, adding that Guard members and their families should take time each day to write down three positive things that happened that day.
"And don't just list them, but also take the time to think about them: 'Why was that thing good to you?'" said Bourquin. "And then what can you do so that good will continue on tomorrow."
It's also important for Guard members to incorporate downtime, eat healthy foods and get enough sleep.
"That's probably the most important thing [to do] so they can practice resiliency," said Brandt.
And while many are working from home or facing other challenges, it's also important to stay engaged with a larger community, said Brandt.
"Although people may not gather together at the lunch counter or in the office, people are now connecting through [online tools], and it's amazing how people are building those relationships and, more importantly, maintaining those relationships," Brandt said.
Chaplains have also been using similar online tools.
"We have chaplains doing virtual worship services," Brandt said, adding that some are recording uplifting video messages and sending them out to those in their circle.
For Brandt, that's an important element of the response efforts to COVID-19, which have been similar to those for any large-scale emergency, but also quite different.
"They're different because this affects all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia," he said. "It's also the same because we're making a difference in our hometowns."
And many chaplains have also been on the front lines of the Guard's COVID-19 response, ensuring Guard members have spiritual support if needed.
"Soldiers are human beings," said Army Maj. Jaime Villacorta, a chaplain with the Florida Army National Guard, adding that wearing the uniform doesn't make Soldiers, or Airmen, immune from emotional and spiritual needs.
For Villacorta, who has provided spiritual support to Guard members working at testing centers and other missions in Florida, his mission is clear.
"I am here to provide support to all Soldiers [and Airmen], regardless of their religious or spiritual background," he said.
That's the core element of a chaplain, said Brandt, adding that as Guard members have responded to COVID-19, he's often taken inspiration from the words of Francis Grimke, a pastor who preached resiliency during the 1918 influenza pandemic.
"He talked about this need to keep running the race, to cling to one's faith - whatever that faith may be - and to have hope that we will get through it," he said. "As they did then, as we will now. It's that hope I cling to and that hope I share with other people."
And building resiliency is key to that, said Brandt.
"We will get through this," he said. "It may seem like the light is at the end of the tunnel and it's far away, but we will get there."
Army Sgt. Terry Rajsombath contributed to this report.