In January 2020 I boarded a plane heading towards the US and my dream job of a three year posting in Philadelphia. I hugged my family goodbye at the airport, and the last familiar voice I heard before leaving Australia was my little niece calling out “I love you Aunty Kass” as I walked down the gangway to board my plane. At that point I was expecting to return to Australia six months later to attend a friend’s wedding and see my family for a week’s break in my hometown.
For anyone who has been away on duty in any form you will be able to relate to the fact that the world keeps spinning and life goes on. This is true for you in your duty location and for the ones left behind at home. My experience in the US has seen the usual iterations of this fact – sick family members, new life, unexpected deaths, good times and bad times for both sides (home and away).
I am no stranger to these realities of my service. I have missed events before and know I will miss events in the future for my commitment to duty. Over the years I have trained my brain and my heart to deal with such realities, and I think I do it pretty well. The difference this time around and something no one could prepare me for has been the ‘COVID-19 complexity’ of my posting.
Resilience in a COVID-19 world has become like an extreme sport. All the usual realities of life are compounded, and receiving bad or good news from home is all the harder to deal with because you are in lockdown. The lockdown means sitting at times in complete isolation with these life events happening back home; coupled with the anxiety and fear of your own uncertain situation. There isn’t the distraction of everyday life happening around you. There’s only one little voice that is hanging around all day, every day – my own. What mood is that little voice in today? The answer means the difference between a day full of smiles or misery.
The hardest part of my COVID-19 journey has come and hopefully passed for good. People see me now on my social media out and enjoying my time here in the US. The truth is, I have had and continue to have a fantastic time living out my dream posting; regardless of the fact that it has played out much differently to what I was originally expecting.
The interesting thing to me is that gap in my social media where nothing was really posted for several months. It means nothing to anyone else as silence equals obscurity in the social media world. But to me that silence signifies a lot more because that’s where my personal growth went into forced overdrive.
At this stage I haven’t returned home to Australia since January 2020 and am unsure if I will before my posting is over at the end of 2022. There is comfort as well as sadness that comes from knowing I am not alone in this particular circumstance. This leads into one of the most important lessons I have learned from my time here in the US – we are all part of someone’s family.
In my role I work with over 20 different nations. I can tell you from direct experience that when the world gets crazy around us it doesn’t matter where you are from. Your first and foremost thoughts go to those you love. Following on from that lesson, I committed to memory the fact that we all wake up every day and are faced with our own version of ‘hard’. It’s not a competition on who has it harder; it’s accepting this fact and meeting the day with the empathy to help each other through the hard times. And the most important lesson I’ve learned is to start each day with gentle kindness and unwavering respect for ourselves.
About the author:
Kassie Wildman is an Air Force Senior Non-Commissioned Officer within the supply mustering. With 15-years of experience, she has deployed several times in support of domestic and international operations and exercises. Kassie is currently fulfilling a three-year posting within the US Navy Supply Liaison Office in Philadelphia, USA working alongside other international partners from approximately 20 nations. She has a passion for empowering women and supporting female aviators to achieve their full potential.