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Mandatory perspective, brought to you by COVID

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --

Work-life balance is not unique to the military, neither is it a new one. As far back as the 1970s, Harry Chapin wrote and performed perhaps his most famous song, “Cat’s in the Cradle.” In the song, he tells the story of a father who is always too busy to play with his young son. 

Finally, as the man becomes older and has the time, the boy no longer wants to spend time with his father. The boy is now grown, with a family of his own, and is far too busy himself.  

Probably the most interesting side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic over these many months has been the re-arranging of our lives, which has caused us to look at work-life balance in a new way. For many, work has been literally brought into our homes.

For others who must keep the mission going, we are now acutely aware of what is mission essential; we understand that not everything is a priority.

For those who have had to work from home, we have been able to get a unique glimpse into each other’s lives. The internet is alight with videos showing kids wandering into office meetings demanding snacks, cats jumping onto their owner’s laps, and occasionally the ill-advised family member who walks unknowingly in front of the camera while in their jammies.  

We’ve gotten to meet spouses, kids and cherished pets in their natural habitat. We’ve shared laughs over unanticipated family interruptions. For some, we’ve discovered that they live alone. 

It’s made us stop and wonder how they get that sense of connectedness when they can’t go out of their home to spend time with their social circle. What is the true impact, especially for those who live alone, if we are under another stay-at-home order or quarantine?

I thought I had always had a good sense of mission and what things were essential. However, besides helping us to focus on what our core mission sets are, the pandemic has really highlighted just how essential our support services are to our wing.

The medical group, security forces, force support, comptroller squadrons, and public affairs, to name a few, have all been front and center. Our lives and the way we do business have revolved around public health and force health protection guidelines.

Manpower and personnel policies have been crucial as we have had to navigate exception-to-policy guidance so we can safely execute permanent-change-of-station moves or go on leave. 

What “color” is a state? How can we message the pandemic’s impact on wing operations and changes to services to our youngest Airmen or how about our retirees? We’ve had to figure out which funds to use for personal protective equipment for medical operations versus flying missions. Would I have believed you last year at this time if you told me we would have people begging to get a dental cleaning? Nope!

As the vaccinations roll out and we start to recover, I hope that we don’t throw out the lessons learned on the importance of family, connection and mission along with the face masks.