Covid Pandemic Made DEVCOM Chemical Biological Center Stronger, Better
By Dr. Brian B. Feeney
“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” is a well-known quote often used in military circles. In this case, it tells the story of how the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center (DEVCOM CBC) is facing down COVID-19 and will come out of it better able to perform its mission – serving the warfighter and the nation.
A Supreme Test and Training Ground
“The pandemic and our response to it has been our opportunity to see what we’re made of, and that is grit, dedication to the mission, and to the spirit of innovation,” said DEVCOM CBC Director Dr. Eric Moore. “I will look back on this as a supreme test, and a test that we passed. It has made me fully appreciate the strength and resilience of the people who I am honored to lead.”
The real beneficiary of this test is the warfighter and the nation. “There will be another pandemic. There will also likely be cyberattacks, other biological events, and other things that in the past have been the stuff of science fiction, but it’s not,” said Moore. “We need to think about how our warfighters and the public would be affected and start working on those solutions now. Adapting to all the limitations and obstacles COVID-19 created is the best possible real world training for everyone at the Center.”
Lessons for Leadership
This rethinking included how Center leadership manages its workforce. “How do we manage all the new challenges? We trust our people,” said Thomas Woloszyn, DEVCOM CBC chief of staff. “That means that as leaders and managers, we have become more patient and flexible with respect to our team. Working in the home with schools closed created new pressures and stresses for people.”
Woloszyn feels strongly that he needs to maintain his connection with the workforce. In normal circumstances he would do that in person by visiting staff sections, participating in meetings and attending Center events. In a telework setting it means having the tools to connect to the workforce virtually – using audio, video, file sharing, and other technology to ensure clear and consistent communication.
“I found that I can be available and call for online meetings quickly, and by having more of them, be able to make them shorter. That increases the human connection,” said Woloszyn. “We got more productive, and if anything, the problem has become not letting yourself get too caught up in work since it is easy to be available at all times right there in your home.” The upside of connectivity is that, going forward, any serious incident concerning the Center and its work can be addressed by its key people immediately, even if it means walking downstairs to the home office in the middle of the night.
Earning Deeper Trust with Higher Headquarters
The experience has also had a profound impact on the Center’s relationship with its chain of command. “We can always go to higher command for pandemic guidance and collaboration,” said Joseph Gordon, assistant chief of staff for operations. “For the first few months we reported to our command daily to stay accountable for our people’s safety. We found ourselves frequently praised for our responsiveness and proactiveness. That built mutual trust which we will have going forward.”
Coming Out Better
There are many other enduring positive changes, too. “We are now far more flexible and creative about how, where, and when we accomplish our critical mission to support the warfighter and defend the nation,” said Director of Operational Applications Dr. Paul Tanenbaum. “As an organization, we have learned to stay flexible and adjust to the unexpected. We have learned how to better listen—there are great ideas from all over the organization. And most important, we in leadership saw a great demonstration – if we can focus on taking care of the people, then they’ll take care of the mission.”