Throughout my career in the military, I confronted a range of dynamic challenges that taught me how to respond to crisis situations. From serving on the ground in Iraq to navigating the high seas of the Persian Gulf to advising the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon, I learned key lessons that can be applied to confronting the unprecedented public health and economic emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On my second deployment on the USS Carney, I was responsible for training the crew on how to respond to damage during crisis situations. On one fateful evening, our ship encountered a heavy storm with high seas, and began taking on an array of damage; flooding, fires, freon leak. Everything was going wrong at once.
Right now, we face a global pandemic and national crisis, and everything feels like it is going wrong all at once. Now more than ever, our country needs real leadership in Washington that will put politics aside and rapidly respond to protect the American people. In the military, we confront crises through the framework of first, accurately and honestly assessing the situation and then, building the tactical, operational, and strategic level plans and responses. We need to take immediate action to confront this public health and economic crisis using that same model.
First and foremost, leaders must take accurate stock of the crisis and honestly communicate to the American people. In January, scientists sounded the alarm bells about the oncoming pandemic. President Trump and his administration lost months minimizing the threat, calling it a hoax, blaming others, and overselling the efficacy of the White House’s policies. The cost of this incompetence and willful misinformation will be devastating for so many Americans.
At the tactical level, the federal government must do whatever it takes to meet the immediate public health needs and confront the growing economic fallout. Trump and his Administration continue to downplay the size and scope of the needs of health care workers and other essential workers on the front lines of fighting this virus. In the military, we knew that we were backed by the most powerful country in the world and would almost always have the tools and protection we needed to accomplish our mission—our health care workers should have the same support, tools, and protection.
It makes me sick to think about our hospital workers, EMS and police, hard-working people caring for our seniors, or anyone in Central New York having to put themselves and others at risk due to a failure of our federal government to provide them with adequate protective equipment.
New York City is the epicenter of the virus, and it’s an all hands-on deck moment to immediately ramp up production of COVID-19 test kits, protective masks, shields, and gear, as well as ventilators and hospital bed capacity to arm our doctors, nurses, scientists, and first responders across the state with the tools they need fighting this virus. The President must invoke the Defense Production Act – as he previously has hundreds of thousands of times for our military — not just for ventilators, but for all the tactical supplies needed by our health care workers.
At the operational level, we will need a coordinated full-scale public health and economic response plan. The plan will take the entire government working together and bringing together our public and private sector. It should deploy all the resources we have available to exponentially expand testing, meet the needs of our healthcare workers, and expand financial relief to small businesses and our hard-working families.
Last week, Washington finally took some steps to address these extraordinary health care and economic challenges, but it was long past time for Trump and Congress to act and doesn’t focus enough on the working families here in Central New York that need the most help.
We need an unprecedented, multi-pronged economic response that sustains robust unemployment insurance, supports small businesses with relief and tax credits, and invests more in our food assistance programs. It is critical for leaders to prioritize the needs of working people, not bailouts for the wealthy and corporations.
Once our country has navigated out of the immediate public health and economic crisis every family is facing right now, we then need to turn our attention to the strategic plans to build a brighter future here in Central New York and across the country. This means strengthening our middle class by eliminating tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, investing in our infrastructure and clean energy, and expanding vocational job training for two-year degrees that make good paying jobs accessible and gives everyone the opportunity to succeed.
Right now, our country is facing a crisis the scales of which we haven’t seen in 100 years, and there is no question the journey forward will be tough. For decades, as central New Yorkers, we have faced tough challenges and have overcome each of them. With the power of American ingenuity and an immeasurable capacity for human kindness we, both as a community and a country, will beat COVID-19. And it starts with real leadership that takes immediate action at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels – the same formula our military uses to confront dangerous crises.
For up-to-date factual information from scientists and public health professionals, refer to the CDC webpage.