Background Today, physicians are at the front lines of a pandemic response. Military physicians are uniquely trained to excel in such large-scale emergency situations. Civilian physicians can harness military know-how, but it will require research into military healthcare responses-specifically, we need to learn lessons from military interprofessional healthcare teams (MIHTs). Methods This research answers two questions: What are the characteristics of successful MIHTs? Why are those characteristics important to MIHT success in large-scale emergency situations? Using a Grounded Theory approach, 30 interviews were conducted soliciting perspectives from the broadest range of healthcare professionals who had experiences working in and leading MIHTs. Purposive sampling was used to recruit participants broadly across: contexts where MIHTs work; military branches; ranks; genders; and healthcare professions. Data were iteratively collected and analyzed. Results 30 participants were interviewed (18 male (60%); 21 officers (70%); 9 enlisted (30%)) who held various healthcare occupations (medic/tech/corpsman (9); nurse (7); physician (7); dentist (2); occupational therapist (2); chaplain (1); physician's assistant (1); and psychiatrist (1)). Six characteristics of successful MIHTs that are directly applicable to large-scale emergency situations were identified thatthat clustered into two themes: own your purposes and responsibilities (through mission focus and ethical bearing) and get it done, safely (via situational awareness, adaptability, and leadership with followership). Conclusions This study provides insights, informed by decades of military service and training, to help civilian physicians succeed in large-scale emergency situations. These experiences from the war front can support today's pandemic responses on the home front.