Matthew Donovan: Against coronavirus, this American trait will be key to victory

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Words and phrases such as “unprecedented,” “uncharted territory,” “flattening the curve” and “social distancing” have become common in our everyday language as COVID-19 substantially impacts every aspect of our society.

Like all Americans, I anxiously await the day when our streets are again bustling, and our restaurants and other businesses are filled with the workers and customers that form the fabric of our nation. While we grapple with an invisible enemy that recognizes no boundaries and is indiscriminate with its attacks, be assured that America will prevail.

What brings me great comfort and optimism is the abundance of one common trait of Americans — resilience. Looking back through the 9/11 terror attacks, two world wars bookending Pearl Harbor and the Great Depression, and even as far back as the very founding of our nation, we have faced challenges requiring action and determination on the part of all Americans. Each time our people stepped up, our country triumphed and we came away even stronger.


In times of great uncertainty and turmoil, we come together as a nation and rely on each other as we strengthen our resolve and our sense of unified purpose. Americans are doing just that once again. From the bipartisan bill that President Trump just signed to help Americans sustain their lives, to our first responders, medical personnel, truckers, grocers and every citizen who is following the president’s COVID-19 guidelines — Americans are stepping up and making sacrifices to fight and defeat this virulent menace.

Understanding that we are engaged in one of the great global challenges of our time, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper set the Department of Defense’s priorities to respond to the pandemic: protecting our troops, civilian workforce and their families; safeguarding our national security capabilities; and supporting President Trump's whole-of-nation response.

When confronted with challenges throughout our history, Americans have become galvanized and unified and demonstrated the resilience that makes our nation the greatest the world has ever known.

The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness is working closely with the rest of the Department of Defense, other federal agencies, and state and local governments, whether in person or remotely, to combat this invisible threat. Our efforts enable military field hospitals, expeditionary medical units and hospital ships to provide life-saving medical surge capability where needed. Our policies and coordination support the National Guard’s efforts in aiding drive-through testing sites and assisting in the planning and coordination of local responses. Service members, civilian employees and their family members around the world are informed of the latest force health protection procedures through our guidance.

Together with our organizations within the Department of Defense, the entire federal government, and all American citizens, we will defeat COVID-19. What will be just as important as our victory are the lessons we learn from this experience.


We will adopt new practices, gleaned from close collaboration with partners from every sector of society, including technology, law enforcement, health care, schools, food suppliers, and state and local governments. We will assess areas that need improvement and aggressively seek solutions to be better prepared for future contingencies. Areas such as rapid testing, deployment of our active duty and reserve members, and employment practices such as telework are all areas we will study and improve upon.

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Our efforts will also continue to realize the imperatives of the National Defense Strategy that guides our department to remain ready to confront threats from the most unforeseen and extreme circumstances, such as the one we currently face. We will do this by enabling the recruitment, retention and development of the very best men and women America has to offer; Service members and civilian employees who understand the evolving nature of the security environment and how it affects American interests, the character of war and the dimensions of strategic competition.

As advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and augmented and virtual reality have dramatically altered the contemporary learning environment, we will ensure our warfighters receive the very best education and training on the most modern platforms to keep our readiness at the levels required to dominate in any warfighting domain.

We must also continue to develop and strengthen partnerships. The one indisputable fact with COVID-19 is that just as this virus respects no borders, its cure will have no geographical or political boundaries. We will continue to seek opportunities to strengthen relationships with our allies and partners by promoting such measures as increased access to U.S. military education and training programs to establish mutually beneficial relationships and enduring personal connections with future leaders, and familiarize participants with American values and beliefs.


Lastly, we must prioritize digital modernization. The COVID-19 operating environment is a wake-up call to digitally transform the way we use data, technology and processes to harness the power of big data analytics to better inform our decision-makers. The National Defense Strategy is clear. We are already in the future of rapid technological change. To meet the challenges ahead, we must embrace the power of the information age.

When confronted with challenges throughout our history, Americans have become galvanized and unified and demonstrated the resilience that makes our nation the greatest the world has ever known. Although COVID-19 is testing our resolve, I know we will not waiver, and we will not fail. I am proud to work with the men and women of the Department of Defense, and most importantly, extremely proud to be a citizen of these United States. We will prevail!