Dealing with prolonged quarantine: Lessons from the USS Nassau

As the country is getting more and more restless during quarantine, it's time to dig deep. If you have never spent a lot of time stuck indoors, you may be concerned about your mental health. To be fair, it is a scary proposition. And it can drive y…
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As the country is getting more and more restless during quarantine, it’s time to dig deep. If you have never spent a lot of time stuck indoors, you may be concerned about your mental health. To be fair, it is a scary proposition. And it can drive you crazy. If you let it. So today I am going to give you some tips I learned about keeping it together during an extended stay on the USS Nassau. (Submariners may go ahead and giggle in the comments. You guys are a different breed, and you get the trophy for isolation.)

Back in 2002, I was stuck on the Mighty Warship Nassau as part of the 24th MEU for nine months. It would come be called the two forever MEU, and at the time was the longest in modern history. Under normal conditions, this wouldn’t be a huge problem. Pre-war, Uncle Sugar’s “Med Cruise” was a good ole time, drinking in Italy, sightseeing in Tel Aviv, with just enough time between ports to get another paycheck. Don’t throw me in the briar patch by making us stay out here!

But this MEU was different. Unbeknownst to us, we were acting as a multi-theater reserve so forces could be shuttled to Kuwait for the big show: OIF 1, which we would also end up being a part of. We almost immediately passed through the Suez, and spent most of that nine months cutting gator squares off of HOA, or in the Persian Gulf. Three days in Bahrain was the only port call. Absolute madness.

Marines also have a problem on amphibious ships. We have nothing to do. Marines are literally cargo for the Navy in this capacity, and it shows. When the Navy does things like firefighting drills, the Marine’s place of duty is in your bunk. So how, exactly, do you keep it together when your own rack is so small you can’t even turn over in it, a one foot by one foot locker?

Drag handles are great for curls. (Photo courtesy of Clay Martin)

The first thing to do is establish a routine. Being lazy might be fun for the first couple of days, especially if you were working long hours prior to this, so enjoy it. But eventually that will make you nuts. Try getting up at a set hour, and drinking your coffee or tea as the sun comes up. Then clean for maybe an hour. The point isn’t to have a sparkling house, though that is a benefit. The point is to have some work to do, which is going to be good for your brain.

Second, you are going to want to do some exercise. If under normal conditions, getting up and going to work was you only PT, no longer doing that will kill you. Literally. Not to mention exercise is an excellent stress reliever. On the boat, I would do AM weights, and then afternoon cardio. And by cardio I mean running on a treadmill staring at a steel wall. Stuck in your apartment, you are in a similar situation. Except the Nassau had a fully functional gym. You are going to need to make your own.

Even if all you have is a backpack, that will go a really long way. If the mail is still running, I do suggest getting a very high quality one. My first choice is Eberlestock, as they have proven to be incredibly durable. I used one quite a lot in the Army, and my current model of choice is the Big Trick. It also doubles as a “go bag” in case you have to get out of Dodge. Your weights are going to be canned goods (which you hopefully procured), bottled water, or shoes if that is all you have.

Marines will get this, its a hand of Spades. (Photo courtesy of Clay Martin)

For basic weight training, keep it light. The pack will take it, but you don’t want to drop any precious resources like tomato soup, on the off chance it breaks and spills. This also isn’t the time to get injured because you tried to curl 200 pounds. Ruck-based PT has a built in advantage, in that the weight is never really perfectly balanced. This works the accessory muscles, which is great. But it also means you can lift less this way, that you could with a nice compact dumbbell.

For cardio, stuck inside four walls is less than ideal. But you still need to do it. This is once again perfect for the backpack. If you put 20 to 30 pounds in it and just walk, you will burn more calories than walking alone. At the risk of sounding insane, the easiest way to do it is get in a rhythm. We could sometimes walk on the flight deck, which was humongous compared to your house. But when we couldn’t, in circles around the well deck worked too. You can get some miles in literally walking around your kitchen island. Turn on a podcast, and simply walk till it’s over.

Last but certainly not least, get some sun. I went a week once without seeing it, and the mental effect was noticeable. At least once a day, get in some sun bathing, even if it is inside. All you have to do is figure out when the sun shines in strongest, and put it on the schedule. The vitamin D boost, as well as hygienic effect, is absolutely amazing. And if you are in quarantine with your spouse, I suggest doing in the buff. That will help pass the time too.