BELLE CHASSE, Louisiana –
In the large command headquarters building located at Naval Air Station – Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, it appears to be business as usual for the Soldiers of the 377th Theater Sustainment Command as they continue their ongoing mission in support of the Army North nationwide fight against COVID-19. Soldiers are seen on conference calls in offices, traversing the hallways, or working in the sweltering Louisiana heat on command vehicles staged in the motorpool beneath tendrils of Spanish moss.
While all the Soldiers here have committed themselves to engage a dangerous and unpredictable enemy, many of them have the comfort of returning to their families at day’s end. For Soldiers like Sgt. First Class Yasmin Boneta, that is not an option.
“I have two children back in Tampa,” she said. “My son just became a teenager a few days ago. My daughter is about to have a birthday. Being away from them has been the most difficult part.”
Boneta is one of several Soldiers within the 377th mobilized to support the COVID effort from locales outside the greater New Orleans area. Serving as the non-commissioned officer in charge of field services and senior mortuary affairs adviser for the command, she has been away from her family since the mission began in March of 2020.
“My daughter will say to me, ‘mom, tell the Army you’re not going to work today, tell them you quit and come home to be with me,’” she explained. “There are times when it becomes very emotional.”
The COVID-19 mobilization is personal for Boneta, a coronavirus survivor who credits her positive attitude upon diagnosis for her ability to overcome the disease. She has become accustomed to separation, recently returning from a deployment to Kuwait in early 2019. Despite the demanding lifestyle, she has remained resilient and learned coping mechanisms to deal with the inherent stresses of isolation and distance from her loved ones.
She offered advice for Soldiers facing similar situations. “It’s important to find ways to enjoy your own company,” she continued. “Loneliness mixed with stress is a bad combination, and maybe you’re not used to that. Find something, whether it’s physical, spiritual, or artistic in yourself that you can nourish and feed. It doesn’t mean that you won’t miss your loved ones, you still will. It just means that you won’t suffer as you miss them.”
Her technique of choice for managing stress has been a combination of walking and pushups. She picked up the habit from the 22 Pushup Challenge, an awareness initiative highlighting the tragic statistic released by the Department of Veteran Affairs in 2013 that 22 veterans take their own lives on a daily basis. The challenge prompts individuals to document performing 22 pushups for social media. Boneta explained that as a result of the habit, she is in better shape than when she arrived on the mission.
Maj. Henry Robinson, Jr., the mobility officer in charge for the command, is also away from his family in Tupelo, Miss. He employs a different stress relief tactic to overcome the isolation, citing his background as an engineer for the unique habit.
“I like to tinker with things and figure out how they work, and study them,” he said. “It allows me to get away from the current issue and not let it get to me, I find my little happy space and have a good time.”
Robinson has deployed twice overseas, and spoke highly of advances in technology since his earlier deployments for being able to stay in touch with family. He likes to speak with his wife during his lunch breaks over a video call, and catch up with his children in the evenings.
When asked what he wanted to do first when he returned home upon the conclusion of the mission, he was reminded of the simple things.
“I’ll definitely go and cut my grass,” Robinson joked. “My son cuts it now, but it’s nothing like when I cut it. I’m just glad that he’s cutting it so we don’t get one of those city violations.”
For Robinson, the mobilization has served as an opportunity to get in touch with himself and learn new things during his time with the command both professionally and personally. After so much time apart from family in his career, he has become well versed in how to make the best out of a difficult situation.
“I’m focusing on the Soldier life and finding out who I am,” he explained. “I have more opportunities to read now, to drive around and just look at the scenery and sites.”
He stressed that the most important aspect of succeeding when away from home and family is taking care of your well-being through personal investment.
“I’m able to refocus on, ‘what is it Henry likes to do?’” he said. “Who is Henry, and what makes Henry important? I can, for lack of better words, do some soul searching.”
Boneta had an equally simple plan in mind upon her return to her family.
“I’m gonna kiss and hug and squeeze my kids,” she said. “And I’m gonna try not to cry.”