You might know Rheanna Sinnett as daughter of Kevin and Doreen Sinnett of Rangeley Region Lake Cruises, or perhaps you know her as the owner of Just Add Water Floating Camps, an eco-tourism houseboat rental business on Rangeley Lake. However, you might not know that she was commissioned into Active Duty Military service with the US Navy in 2003.  After having joined the US Navy Reserves in 2014, she has been recalled to Active Duty three times since then.

While she has been on current recall to active duty this winter, she has been the Executive Assistant to the Chief of Staff for US Naval Forces Europe, US Naval Forces Africa & US SIXTH Fleet. Since October of 2019 she has been stationed in Naples, Italy and lives just outside of Naples in Baia. As Italy has been one of the first countries to bear the brunt of COVID-19, Rheanna was nice enough to share her perspective.

“I’m working in support of the Chief of Staff of our Command, functioning as his Executive Assistant. On a daily basis, I provide him with prioritized tasks and content, as well as helping him to manage the administrative functions of our staff. These functions include travel planning, budgeting analysis, facilities management, brief and presentation development, and ensuring the Chief has the information he needs to efficiently and effectively do his job. Along with our front office staff, I function as the clearinghouse of all administrative and operational functions that require Chief of Staff awareness and approval.”

In early to mid February 2020, “the spread of COVID-19 became a threat to our military personnel and their families, and those that support our forces, in Europe and Africa. Since mid-February, the Chief of Staff has functioned at the lead for COVID-19 crisis action and response for Naval Forces in Europe and Africa. Our office has completely transitioned to managing the Corona Virus impacts on the US Naval Forces in our Areas of Responsibility (AOR). We oversee an Operational Planning Team (OPT) of medical, operational and administrative representatives who generate reports, briefings and directives that provide operational and medical impact updates to our internal leadership as well as the Combatant Commanders of Europe and Africa in addition to our National Military leaders in the US.”

On the one hand Sinnett is clearly doing her professional duty, keeping her focus on the mission, but on the other hand, at the end of the day she worries along with the rest of us. “My concerns right now are really for those I know working in Africa. It’s just such a vulnerable area. Locally here, my concerns are for those I work with and those I have become friends with in my community in Naples. Italy has been deeply affected by the aggressive spread of COVID-19 and even with very strict isolation measures, the virus has continued to spread rapidly. It has really affected people’s mental wellbeing. While I’m not personally concerned about my health and safety – I feel safe and confident that we are collectively taking aggressive and positive actions to combat the spread in our military community – I know there are many of the local nationals who have befriended me that are dealing with the loss of family members, new babies they can’t visit, and so on. Things like fathers not being able to be in the delivery room with their wives while giving birth. It’s tough to be forced into isolation and to be kept away from those you typically have the freedom to help.

I am also anxious about the longer effects that this pandemic might have on my family and community back home. While very rare in our military community, I have seen the quick onset of COVID symptoms that have turned life-threatening. My fear is that folks won’t take this seriously back home until it’s too late and we’ve reached levels of infection that overburden and outpace our ability to treat those affected. I can say that I was a bit lax in my initial reaction to this virus… until things got very serious and very real here in Italy. In my mind, it was something that other countries had to manage. Until it was ours to manage. It became real very quickly.”

View from Sinnett’s balcony view from apartment out over the Bay of Naples

Like many of us, she is trying her best to be careful, stay positive, and be thankful for the good nature of others. “I have very little interaction with anyone outside of work and going to my local market to get groceries, so I know there’s very little chance to come in contact with the virus. My little balcony chats with my neighbors have become the highlight of my day now! Personally, I have experienced nothing but kindness and concern from the Italians I know. My landlord checks in on me frequently and passes the sweetest messages of encouragement. There are homemade signs up all over with the words ‘Andrà tutto bene’ – Everything Will be Fine.

For many, including Sinnett, the social distancing is unexpectedly taking its toll. “I’m really surprised how lonely I feel – and how much I look forward to going into work! I’m teleworking from home most days, but I really appreciate going to work and seeing people. I’m usually a loner and certainly don’t mind being on my own, but that’s also tempered with having a life that’s typically full of human interaction. And despite having an amazing, open view from my apartment out over the Bay of Naples, I am surprised how much I crave being outside. Most of my free time here I’ve spent walking or hiking outside (with the occasional gelato and pizza break!) and I miss not only the freedom to go where I want when I want, but the simple act of moving outside. And I’m surprised how paralyzing this whole situation feels. I think it’s partly because I never really fully settled in here – we’ve had a very busy winter, mission-wise, with other real-world events – but where I would normally be able or do something about a problem like this, I’m basically focused on our staff’s response and supporting our military mission here. Not really dealing with the virus itself or helping those out in Naples dealing with it. Just feels very dislocated. I have the urge to do something more tangible.”

All in all, the bright moments are still there. “Terrace chats with my neighbors. ‘Andrà tutto bene’ signs up everywhere. Group texts with my fabulously hilarious friends. Solo dance parties. Videos from my sisters and friends of all the beautiful, healthy and precocious kiddos in my life. I am incredibly thankful for my ability to work and still be productive.”

As someone who lives in Oquossoc half of the year she is hoping she will be able to return to the U.S. in mid-May and when and if it is safe, to Rangeley soon after. “I miss hiking, I miss my family, I miss my boats, I miss the lake. Naples is the craziest tangle of life and activity and amazing spirit. I was able to enjoy that for a while, but I have to say that I am ready to come home. The mission of our command is important and I feel good about supporting that for sure. But I miss being in Maine. I don’t do much on social media, but I have seen quite a few truly generous offers of help and service and support in our Rangeley community. Rangeley Rises emblems everywhere! The e-mails I’ve received from the Chamber and other local Rangeley businesses supporting one another and those who need help in town really make me want to be home where I can contribute to those efforts. It takes the effort of all of us to make sure the spread of the virus is minimized, and it’s so very hard to give up things that seem like our right. It truly takes one opportunity for exposure to cause a great deal of harm. I’m so encouraged by the stories I’ve seen and conversations with my friends back home that relay personal sacrifice for the collective good. I’m encouraged and moved by the positive response of so many. That positivity will get us through.”

I’m sure I speak for all of us here in Rangeley and Oquossoc when I say, Thank you Rheanna for your service and we hope and pray for your safe return.

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