In these unprecedented times, I have been asked more than once about how the military, law enforcement, and other security institutions confront, work, and prevail through emergencies and crises. In normal times, I would have responded immediately and instinctively.  However, given that we are affected by the first and second order effects of the pandemic and that we are looking for ways to prevail in these times of incredible disruptions to all parts of our lives, I chose to reflect more deliberately. That led to the formulation of these thoughts which are reflections that answer the question asked, and framed in ways that I hope may be relevant and useful to others from all walks of life.   

Let’s start with a heartfelt conviction. Simply put: I am convinced that we will endure through this emergency, we will recover together, and we will find a new normal, including the peace, security, and stability we all desire in life beyond COVID-19. There are two reasons why. The first is because we, as Canadians, and as a nation, have confronted and overcome crises in the past. The second is because we are confronting this crisis with clear eyes, clear minds, and compassion.

During and before our lifetimes, the world, Canada, businesses, institutions, citizens, neighbours, and families have confronted crises and hardships together. From the two World Wars to combat in Afghanistan, we have endured and prevailed in wars and through armed conflicts. 

Within our borders, we have experienced national emergencies and disasters like the 1997 floods in Manitoba, the ice storms in Ontario and Quebec in 1998, and the aftereffects of 9/11 in 2001. More recently, the devastating floods in Southern Alberta and Quebec, and the destructive firestorms in Alberta and British Columbia. We have endured financial distress like the ‘Great Depression’ of the 1930s and the 2008 financial crisis. We have seen and confronted epidemics, most notably SARS in 2003.  

The environment is not the same today. But we did prevail then, and we can and will do it again now. There are several reasons why I believe this to be true.

We are being kept informed of the facts, and they are being interpreted and shared with us by experts. Political and civil leaders are listening to those facts and soliciting expert advice. They are making public health, public safety, and policy decisions and communicating them to us based on facts at the forefront. And they are compassionate and demonstrably empathic in communicating decisions to keep us safe and to mitigate the effects on lives and livelihoods. 

Health service institutions, health care professionals, and their support staff are all serving selflessly at the frontlines of our health care system. Other key public service and security institutions are on point and are serving at our borders, in immigration, in first responders, in police services, in transportation, in our Armed Forces at home and abroad, in employment insurance, in taxation, in non-profits, and so many more. An overwhelming majority of Canadians trust them. Many are committed to supporting and enabling these institutions in new ways so that they may continue to serve others.

Businesses are adapting and pivoting from business as usual to emergency support, community support, and enabling health care teams, first responders, essential services, and people in need.  We as citizens are seeing and recognizing commercial and public services as a new frontline serving Canada and Canadians.  And we are showing our gratitude to them.  

Citizens are responding by conforming with public health and safety guidelines, and by going beyond in caring for family and neighbours.

My point is, those we rely on are being clear-eyed about the real and emerging situation. They are being clear-minded in their decisions and actions. They are being compassionate and empathetic to others.  These are the reasons why I feel strongly about us getting through this together.

Now back to answering the opening question. How do military folks get through conflicts and crises? 

In normal times, we as citizens and as a society enjoy a relatively high level of security and stability. Life comes with a good sense of predictability. We live life with a sense of natural rhythm – in personal life, family life, community life, and at work. In this pandemic every part of life has been disrupted. Any sense of a natural rhythm has been completely disturbed. 

It’s like being a part of our military, living and working with a normal rhythm of training and preparation at home to being thrust into a combat zone, facing an enemy in an overseas operation. We go from an environment we create and control to one we cannot. The operational environment is entirely unpredictable but we create predictability in that environment by establishing a new rhythm for how we live, endure, and prevail together. We adopt and practice a daily and weekly rhythm that is tailored for our mission, our team, and our environment. We in the military call this “Battle Rhythm”. 

Lieutenant-General Stuart Beare, Commander of Canadian Joint Operation Command, salutes on the final Remembrance Day held by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan on November 11, 2013. Photo: Sgt Norm McLean, Canadian Forces Combat Camera IS2013-0004-96

In battle rhythm, as we face emergencies and crises, plan and execute combat missions and tasks, respond to and care for casualties, and seek to protect our teams, we set aside time and take the time to make certain things part of our routine. Key amongst them are these:   

  • To get updates on the facts of the current and emerging situation around us – sort of like catching up on the weather, the news, and our neighborhood. 
  • To connect with our mission partners to ensure we are tracking together how our mission is going. We can choose to adjust and adapt based on what we discover together.
  • To check on the health and well-being of our team and teammates. From leadership by walkabouts to lessons learned, from buddy check to peer support. 
  • We check in with family and friends and we plan our time to be with them again. We make sure that when we return to them, we step out of the mission to be fully with them. When with them we seek to leave our work behind.
  • We check in with ourselves – physically, emotionally, spiritually. Imagine being in the middle of a combat zone and going for a jog in a desert environment, in 40-degree weather, inside a fortified forward operating base, while other members in your force are in close battle just kilometres away. We take time for ourselves.

These are unprecedented and extraordinary times. Globally and across Canada, in our work, in our teams, with our families, and even within ourselves, a normal rhythm may not suit many of us. If that’s true, then I suggest we each consider establishing a new personal and work battle rhythm, one suited for these times, and then adapt it and stick with it until a new normal emerges. It can include these things:

Being Informed. Select one or two times a day to catch up on the situation locally and globally. Don’t get trapped into following the news and social media all day long.  

Mission. Be on mission both in our work and in our shared community to reduce and eliminate the risk of viral spread. Have pre-specified touchpoints in mission (like projects and tasks) for a 15- or 30-minute period each day.  

Team. Have specified times for connecting with your team and peer support, even with something as simple as a buddy system.  

Family. Schedule time and activity with family and friends – even if virtual – and block it in. We are fortunate to have an incredible array of digital interconnectivity.

Self. Schedule those minutes in a day where we care for the self, like time for reading, prayer, a hike, walk, or run.  

A set battle rhythm, with the discipline and determination to stick with it, is what helps military professionals endure and prevail through emergencies and conflict. If we employ this strategy here at home, it can get us through these challenging times as well. Stay connected, persevere, and support each other. We can and will endure, and we will get through this together. 

There are so many ways to serve and we are seeing so many of them at the front now. To all who serve today – including in the new frontlines that are confronting this pandemic, the families, friends, businesses, and communities supporting them – thank you for your service. Your service is priceless indeed.