The fight against COVID-19 is a war—how companies are adopting military skills

by | Apr 3, 2020 | Analysis, Covid-19, Public Relations

War and conflict have been a ceaseless part of human history. The battle against the COVID-19 virus is an enemy no nation has ever met. COVID-19 never tires, COVID-19 ceaselessly attacks, and COVID-19 is a survivor. COVID-19 is an awesome enemy, but like all enemies in all wars, COVID-19 will be defeated.

In the battle to defeat COVID-19, there are an amazing number of organizations adopting military-style principles to defeat the disease and win the war for human health.

Protect the warfighters from the enemy

Through the arc of military history, military leaders have continuously struggled to protect their soldiers while ensuring victory in the battle. The shield and the spear of the Roman Legions were designed to protect Roman soldiers while still attacking their enemies from a few feet away. Banyan Medical Systems is on the frontlines installing their virtual healthcare platform to remotely connect nurses and physicians to hospitals, drive up clinics, and Intensive Care Units (ICU). Banyan is connecting patients and front-line healthcare professionals with a team of virtual specialists and medical professionals that ensure world class care while simultaneously keeping front line health professionals safe. Like the shields of the Roman Legions, Banyan Medical Systems technology ensures safe medical care remains available to attack COVID-19 while helping safeguard medical professionals.

Agile & creative when facing impossible tasks

General Motors (GM), working with Ventec and GM’s extensive supplier base, is preparing to build thousands of ventilators to ensure proper medical treatment of COVID-19 patients. During World War II, GM built everything from ordnance (bullets and shells) to tanks to vital sub-assemblies to enable the B-29 bomber. GM, Ventec, and GM’s suppliers are proving the military principles of creativity and agility to quickly transform their organization from one goal to another. Few organizations can do this effectively, but GM’s long history of design, testing, prototyping, and manufacturing make it a resolute military principle all its own. In war, we can rarely predict the next attack, but GM’s demonstration of manufacturing agility will make their World War II predecessors proud.

Existing technology transforms into essential capabilities

At the beginning of World War II, US Navy ships employed rudimentary interaction of radar to direct their naval guns. At night, the use of “star shells” were used to light up friend and foe alike in toe-to-toe slugfests between naval war ships. Slowly, the US Navy improved radar technology and attached the radar direction and distance finding directly to their guns. Late in World War II, US Naval gunnery accuracy surpassed even the Japanese, the world leaders, in ship-to-ship gunfire. Before COVID-19, most of us viewed the Internet as a news and entertainment source. Amid COVID-19, we see the Internet as an essential service to order groceries, keep our food supply chain running, have video meetings with colleagues, and as a bridge for effective education. If the Internet was not essential to life before COVID-19, it absolutely is now.

Unlikely allies are everywhere with needed skills

During World War II, the United States counted remote jungle tribes on distant Pacific islands, ancient ethnic clans in Eastern Europe, and fierce fighters in China as some of its least likely and most effective allies. In the COVID-19 fight, data scientists, technology designers, and social media influencers have emerged as some of the unlikeliest allies to predict the spread of the disease, help find cures, design quick-to-build essential medical supplies, and keep up the morale of the billions at home to slow the spread of COVID-19. As in World War II, the world is uniting to fight the COVID-19 virus, we only have to look and appreciate all the allies we have.

Remember the rank & file doing the dirty work

During World War II, there was a famous comic by Bill Mauldin about Willie and Joe, two dirty, perpetually grouchy, and always at the front infantrymen. Wille and Joe were an ever-present reminder of the sacrificing, long suffering and hard-fighting military personnel that made World War II a victory. For COVID-19, we need a new form of Wille and Joe. Today’s Willie and Joe would be men and women, cleaning professionals, first responders, medical professionals, transportation workers, farmers, scientists, and all the other “hidden” faces that are fighting day-to-day to defeat COVID-19.

Prepare for a long fight

World War II lasted from July 1937 (when Japan invaded China) to September 1945 (when Japan surrendered to the Allies). Wars are never easy, and wars are always long. As humans, we must remember that we are just in the opening battles against COVID-19 and there are months and years to follow.

Military principles that emphasize teamwork, protecting personnel, innovation, creativity, incorporate new technology, and build coalitions are what will see us through the COVID-19 war. Our future depends on fighting COVID-19 as a war with ruthless determination, a belief in our success, and the innate understanding that we will triumph.

Chad Storlie
Chad Storlie is a retired US Army Special Forces officer and an adjunct Professor of Marketing at Flagler College. He is a mid-level B2B marketing executive and a widely published author on leadership, business, military and technology topics.


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