AL DHAFRA AIR BASE, United Arab Emirates --
It was the first night in a while that she’d slept so soundly. Unfortunately, it was the one night she wishes she hadn’t. Murphy’s Law continued a long streak of unfolding in Janelle’s life. One incident after another. It was enough to yank the cheer right out of the average person, but not her. U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Janelle Vicente is a seasoned veteran when it comes to mental resiliency.
Vicente’s string of unfortunate events initially stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic, as so many others face struggles surrounding that same cause.
She was slated for a permanent change of station from Misawa Air Base, Japan to Travis Air Force Base, Cali., but with the world still adapting to COVID mitigation, her departure was pushed back to a near critical point.
“It was looking really shaky for a while, and I ended up leaving in the last week that was allowable due to how far along I was in my pregnancy,” said Vicente.
When Vicente finally made it to Travis, she was nearing the end of her pregnancy in the midst of a global pandemic, and she was forced to evacuate her new local area due to the California wildfires that ravaged over 4.3 million acres of land.
Vicente gave birth to her son immediately after returning to her local area while still in the transitioning process with no home to bring him back to after leaving the hospital.
For months, Vicente and her husband raised their baby in precautionary isolation, not interacting much with others because of COVID. Sleepless night after sleepless night, it was mostly just the three of them.
Then, the day before her birthday, the misfortune continued as she awoke to find her car had been stolen.
“It was the first night the baby had fully slept through, so we were excited,” Vicente said. “It was also the one night we wish we would have had that cause to have been awake.”
The challenges didn’t end with a stolen vehicle. Soon after returning to work from maternity leave, Vicente found out she had been tasked with a deployment.
“I left right when he started crawling,” she said, “so I know I’ll be missing a lot, but I try to maintain a strong presence back home with scheduled phone calls and video chats to keep his recognition of me and my voice for when I return.”
Now at Al Dhafra Air Base, Vicente works in the 380th Expeditionary Medical Group as a mental health technician.
With so much to break one’s spirit, it’s amazing that Vicente is still standing tall with a smile on her face for anyone she comes across.
She gives the nature of her job some of the credit for her resiliency and ability to put the toughest of situations into perspective.
Vicente said about her string of unfortunate events, “wild things seem to happen to me, but having the right mindset, thinking positively and seeing the good in situations keeps me optimistic.”
“Being pessimistic or thinking negatively doesn’t help improve the situation, so there’s no point in letting my mind go there,” she continued.
Vicente admitted to being anxious about reuniting with her baby at the end of her deployment and not being remembered, but she plans to use this time away to focus on the things she can control right now, like making small recordings of herself for her son to watch and preparing for her first fitness test after pregnancy.
Now at the halfway point in her tour, Vicente said, “deployments can be tough on you, both physically and mentally, so I keep a support system here, have regular schedules for talks with my family, and have small goals locally to focus on.”
“You have to prioritize self-care, and remember there’s always someone you can talk to if things start getting rough,” she said.
Further proof of her resilient attitude can be found by examining the common-access-card she carries.
Even in one of the most trying moments when Vicente’s dream car was stolen with all of her things inside, she still walked into the military personnel section the same day and snapped a photo for her replacement CAC with an ear-to-ear smile on her face.
Vicente’s supervisor, U.S. Air Force Maj. Timothy Ralston, the 380th EMDG mental health provider, said, “Sgt. Vicente’s calm and steady demeanor has been invaluable on this deployment. Her positive attitude and humor have helped me through the tougher times and have allowed us to be a successful team.”
Ralston also provided some mid-tour mental health tips for others who may be feeling the wear and tear of deployment:
-Reassess goals. Reaching the halfway point of deployment is a great time to evaluate progress toward goals and set a plan for the remaining time.
-Try something new. Routine is great, but mixing in some new experiences can keep things more interesting.
-Set boundaries with work. This is more challenging on deployment, but try not to bring work home and set limits with extra time spent at work.
-Keep your focus on the short-term. Looking too far into the future toward a departure date makes time seem to slow down.
-Find ways to be active. More down time means more time to think, which can lead to additional stress- try to fill the time with meaningful activities.
-Maintain perspective. Deployment is temporary and won’t last forever- try to accept the situation and make the best of it.
-You’re not in this alone. Others are away from home just like you and are in need of support, so don’t hesitate to seek out opportunities to socialize.