How my brother’s mental toughness through a Covid deployment helped us grow closer


Imagine going to sleep after working a 12-hour shift only to be kept awake all night by airplanes shaking your room. It was a reality for master Serigne Diakhaté, a navy sailor on the USS Nimitz.

Serigne spent nearly a year at sea on an extended deployment, instead of the usual scheduled six months. This was because the Navy wanted to prevent Covid outbreaks on ships as the pandemic began to escalate.

RadioActive’s Khassim Diakhaté spoke to his older brother Serigne about his experience.

[RadioActive Youth Media is KUOW’s radio journalism and audio storytelling program for young people. This episode was entirely youth-produced, from the writing to the audio editing.]

The worst part was we didn’t know when we were coming home due to Covid. Just not knowing is what really made it difficult.
Serigne diakhate

FFrom April 2020 to March 2021, my brother Serigne undertook one of the most challenging naval deployments in history.

“Being quarantined on the ship when we’re in the early stages of deployment, it’s just…it’s a mental thing, like a mental block that you have to overcome,” my brother says.

The USS Nimitz spent 321 days deployed at sea without a port due to Covid, as well as rising military tensions in the Middle East. Schedules and living conditions played a huge role in the mental struggles of Sailors and Marines while deployed.

“We work seven days a week, 12-hour shifts, so it’s a constant, relentless hustle and bustle.”

I couldn’t imagine being in my brother’s shoes at that time. I even have trouble remembering to take out the trash before the truck arrives, let alone survive long hours of work.

“And then there were times when we ran out of water, so we couldn’t do laundry for about a week,” my brother recalls.

And it only got worse. Hearing these experiences from my brother really helped me realize how strong he is mentally.

“You try to sleep and a heavy plane comes in and lands right above you, and you just feel the ship moving and it makes noise and you hear the catapults and it’s just a very difficult environment to sleep in.”

Navy deployments usually last around six months, but because of Covid this has become the longest naval deployment since the Vietnam War.

“The worst thing is that we didn’t know when we were coming back,” says my brother. “So we went out not knowing when we were going to come back because of Covid. Just not knowing is what really made it difficult.

I ask him if there was a time when the deployment made him uncertain about the future.

“You just have to constantly remind yourself why you’re doing this,” he replies. “Yes, you don’t know when you’re going home, but you just have to pray that you’ll come home one day.”

Part of what helped my brother through this difficult time was having the chance to talk to my family. Eventually, after much self-reflection, he realized that this deployment was bigger than himself.

“Being able to talk to my family once in a while… I was calling the payphone, you know, I was calling my mom, my dad, you guys, and like I said, I just remember that I do this for a good reason,” recalls Serigne.

I ask him what advice he would give himself at the start of the deployment, knowing what he knows now. He says he would tell himself to “stay resilient. Don’t let things go to your head, just stay strong and you know, it’ll all be over.

Hearing about my brother’s optimism and mental toughness at an uncertain time in his life made me discover a greater appreciation for him.

This story was created in Radioactive Online introductory radio journalism workshop for 15-18 year olds, with production support from Kyle Norris and Meghana Kakubal. Prepared for the web by Antonio Nevarez. Edited by Diana Opong. Help with consultation by Alain Stephens.

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