Though it may seem like the COVID-19 restrictions have sucked the fun out of 2020, military members and veterans across the country are proving that enjoyment during a pandemic is still possible.
Outdoor activities (running, hiking, biking, camping, paddle boarding, lawn games, etc.) are still on the docket, as well as video games, home gyms, niche virtual communities and more.
“Since the pandemic hit, we have seen an uptick in people actually engaging with each other and being more social,” says Travis Williams, co-founder of Military Gaming League (MGL) — an esports league specifically designed for active duty, National Guard members, reservists and veterans. “We’re getting more and more games together, which is really cool. It’s one of the only things you can do if you’re sitting at home all day.”
Williams, a current Army reservist, started MGL in 2018 with Daniel Ball, a fellow former soldier. They wanted a way to stay connected with the military community while sharing their passion for gaming. Over 3,000 military members and veterans now hang out virtually via MGL — including a 50% upswing in month-to-month membership compared to last year.
Besides being able to compete in online tournaments and other gaming-related events, Williams and Ball say their members can experience positive mental health and career benefits.
“What’s very powerful is communicating and getting outside of yourself,” says Ball. “They’re able to have that mental connection with folks who have that common ground. We hear story after story of people who have said this gaming has saved or changed their lives.”
Visit https://militarygamingleague.com to learn more about the Military Gaming League.
Phone a friend
Your phone can hook you up with far more than just Facebook. Consider downloading an app like REI’s “Hiking Project” that shows you all your local trails, “Yonder” for getting started with 25 outdoor activities, “WildLab Bird” for help birdwatching or “FishBrain” to join the world’s largest community-based fishing group.
While the “people portion” of many outdoor amenities may be closed (think interpretive centers or staffed boat ramps), nature is always open. Warrior Expeditions is a nonprofit “outdoor therapy” program for veterans, taking more than 250 on long-distance nature expeditions since 2013. Sean Gobin, the program’s CEO, says he’s seen a huge surge of military interest in the outdoors since March.
“It’s so important to maintain your physical and mental health by getting outside, especially when a lot of us are working from home and getting sedentary,” he said. “Nature therapy is free and accessible everywhere.”
Though Gobin’s nonprofit had to cancel official hikes, bike rides and boat trips for 2020, he encourages all military members and their families to get outside anyway — and if you can safely do so in a group, even better.
“Endorphins from physical activity help combat depression and burns off anxiety. It’s multi-faceted,” Gobin said. “Also, to have your own close bubble of people you can connect with is very beneficial.”
Utilize base resources
Don’t forget about your base’s MWR office, as well as outdoor recreation and/or Information, Tickets & Travel. Besides helping with always-open activities like camping, these resources offer up-to-date information on from-home base-sponsored entertainment.
If you’re far from base, call anyway and ask what’s open in your area. There’s a good chance they’ll know.
At-home gym junkie
Before restrictions hit, Air Force Master Sgt. Merrissa Pough participated in in-person fitness competitions. When everything closed, she went online, switching to virtual competitions while also starting a Facebook-based exercise class geared toward military members preparing for annual PT tests.
You can use whatever equipment you have to exercise from home, Pough says — even your children.
“You can incorporate them into your workout,” said the mother of three. “To sit at home and eat and gain weight, just lose yourself, you’re not putting yourself in the best position to fight off a virus.”
She recommends using this time to really focus on your nutrition.
“This is a good time to take a look at what you’re actually eating and learn to make better choices, make a game plan for when your schedule does pick up,” Pough said.
A pandemic game plan, if you will — and one that cannot be thwarted.Read comments