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Five Tips on Social Isolation from an MHS Graduate Turned Naval Submarine Commander

An official portrait of Cornielle.Milton Hershey School graduate Jeffrey Cornielle ’99 knows about social isolation. As the Executive Officer of the Navy Fast Attack Nuclear Submarine USS Jefferson City (SSN 759) in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, he has spent his entire naval career working with submarines.

“I once spent greater than 60 days at sea without breathing fresh air and only seeing the sky through a periscope,” he said.

During this global pandemic, social distancing is a public health strategy aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). It keeps people physically separated from others with just the members of their household. For someone who spent four tours on a submarine, spending months away from family and friends, Cornielle is used to sharing a tight space where you can’t go outside because you’re hundreds of feet below the sea.

“It’s not about how much space you have, it’s about how you use that space to accomplish your mission.”

He offered these tips for all of us experiencing social isolation:

1. Set a Daily Routine

Develop a routine and stick with it. If you say you’re going to get up at 6:30 a.m. and workout at 7 a.m. Do it! Manage your daily activities and include rest! Getting enough rest will help your mind and body stay sharp.

2. Exercise

Speaking of working out, make sure you’re staying physically active. Exercise is so important not only for your physical health but also for your mental health. Also, we don’t need a fitness center to keep up with exercise. Onboard Jefferson City we have a treadmill, a rowing machine, a stationary bike, and some free weights for more than 130 sailors, but using workout methods that allow you to use your body weight can be just as effective.

3. Manage your Fuel Intake

As we transition to being less active, it’s important to eat healthy and drink plenty of water. We should aim to balance our fuel intake to match our level of physical activity.

4. Play Board Games

I have found that some of the most memorable moments within crew living are the daily interactions with shipmates. While social distancing in public is extremely helpful, within the home, don’t be afraid to play a game of cards or a board game that enables social interaction. This is usually the start of some very funny family stories and long-lasting friendships.

5. Be Patient

Remember this is all temporary; be patient and do the right thing for everyone around you. The day in and day out routine could become stressful and leave you with a sense of restlessness—don’t let that bring you down. Stay positive and focus on what you can do to make your day and the day of someone around you, better. It only takes a smile or a polite gesture to brighten someone’s day.

Jeffery offered this last piece of advice. In this era of social distancing, he said, “If you can’t physically be with family or friends, use technology to have a group chat or video session. My wife does an amazing job of keeping the family connected. This is especially great since we have children in Seattle, Oregon, Hawaii, and Guam. These times are difficult for everyone, but as we have done in the past we will get through this together. I know that my brothers and sisters at Milton Hershey School are in great hands and I truly appreciate the efforts made by our school to take care of my family. MHS has always had a second to none approach to taking care of the students and staff so it is no surprise to me that this trend continues to be the case today.”

Read Jeffrey Cornielle’s MHS Alumni Success Story. Read More on the MHS Coronavirus Response

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