Whether externally or internally evaluated, all training exercises have AARs. Normally, the formality and scope of the AARs increase as the level and scope of the training expand. For example, because events occur so frequently and over such distances in a company-level field exercise, no single person can observe all the events, especially someone preoccupied with the overall unit mission. AARs pull together the separate events. They integrate the experiences and observations of everyone involved in an atmosphere that promotes effective learning. To be most effective, AARs should be conducted during the exercise at logical break points, as well as at the conclusion.
AARs are not critiques in the traditional sense. They do not merely judge success or failure. Instead, they are professional discussions of training events. Trainers or controllers should not lecture participants on what went wrong. Rather they guide discussions to ensure that important lessons are openly discussed, preferably by the participants themselves. Soldiers who identify what went right and wrong learn much more than when lessons are dictated. For effective AARs--
- All controllers, umpires, and evaluators must be trained in AAR techniques and prepared to conduct AARs with subgroups. The chief controller should debrief all controllers and assistants prior to the AARs.
- Commanders and controllers should not critique or lecture. They guide the discussions by asking leading questions. They enter the discussion only to sustain the AAR, to get the discussion back on the right track, or to bring out new points.
- Discussions do not embarrass leaders or soldiers but emphasize the positive.
- Participants describe what happened in their own terms.
- The discussions are outlined, prepared, and rehearsed.
- Thought-provoking questions are prepared to stimulate discussion.
- Analyses relate tactical events to subsequent results and training objectives.
- Alternate courses of action are discussed.
- Discussions avoid minor events that do not directly relate to the major training objectives.
- Participants do not excuse inappropriate actions. Instead, they examine why actions were taken and what alternatives were available.
- Terrain models and training aids illustrate events. Participants relate their comments to the model and move the markers for units, vehicles, and personnel to show the events. TV tape playbacks of key events generate interest and discussions.
- Every element that participated in the exercise is present at the AAR.
- Training deficiencies surfaced during the AAR are incorporated into the unit training schedule within two to six weeks of the exercise.
AARs encourage discovery learning. Soldiers learn best when they learn from each other and from their leaders. Controllers, umpires, and evaluators are there to guide that learning. In this way, soldiers and junior leaders get involved in their own professional development and learn more in the process.
Controllers, umpires, and evaluators must provide comments to the units with which they work. AARs occur during the exercises or as soon after them as practical. During lengthy exercises, they occur at predetermined times following significant activities. Controllers, umpires, and evaluators coordinate with respective OPFOR and player commanders to determine who will attend. The chief controllers schedule ARRs in convenient locations, preferably quiet places protected from adverse weather, where the soldiers can feel relatively comfortable. Coffee and soup help create the proper atmosphere. Regardless of the echelon conducting the exercise, the maximum number of player personnel should attend an AAR, down to and including the first-line NCO leaders and soldiers. Exercises at battalion and above normally conduct separate AARs at each echelon.
AARs cover both the strengths and the weaknesses associated with--
- Combined arms employment.
- Command and control.
- Personnel and logistics support.
They encourage dialogue among controllers, evaluators, umpires, and player unit personnel so that everyone will have the opportunity to discuss the conduct of the exercise. AARs highlight lessons learned and alternative solutions. The chief controllers provide agendas for the reviews. The agendas then become outlines for the formal after-action reports, which are written concurrently with or immediately after the exercise.
In order to conduct AARs, chief controllers must have a complete picture of what happened in the exercises. They base the AARs on comments provided by controllers, umpires, evaluators, and OPFORs. They must debrief the controllers immediately after ENDEX to determine what happened. They must also debrief the OPFORs, which as control elements, are in advantageous positions to observe player units.
If the controllers know something occurred that they could not observe, they should ask a player unit member who was involved exactly what happened, but not why or how. The why and how will be presented by the player during the AAR. Figure 36 provides a possible format they could use for making detailed observations during exercises. By collecting and recording the data from these working papers, chief controllers get the information needed to conduct AARs. After gathering all the information, the chief controllers review the exercises to determine the sequence of events and the cause and effect relationships for all significant activities. The chief controllers then coordinate the AARs and outline an agenda. Table 57 shows a possible agenda for the AAR of a platoon-or company-size maneuver unit in an offensive role using TES.
Each AAR contains three major steps:
- A restatement of training objectives.
- A discussion of all events and how they are related, in order to bring out teaching points.
- A summary of the AAR and a recommendation for subsequent training to correct weaknesses and sustain strengths.
The chief controller briefly restates the specific training objectives. The AAR normally covers only the training objectives that the commander identified prior to the exercise. The chief controller then guides a discussion of events and their relationships by--
- Asking leading questions that emphasize the training objectives.
- Having the unit members describe what happened in their own words and from their own points of view. Key elements of the AAR are the unit commander's visualization of the battle, the commander's concept, the actual events, and the reasons why they happened.
- Bringing out important lessons learned.
- Relating tactical events to subsequent results.
- Exploring alternative courses of action that might have been more effective.
- Avoiding detailed examination of events not directly related to major training objectives.
Diagrams or overlays help players visualize what happened during the exercise. For example, the assembly area and the objective could be shown first. As the AAR proceeds, routes of advance and engagement locations can be shown later as the exercise events are covered.
The chief controller concludes the AAR with a quick summary. After the summary, the chief controller privately discusses individual and unit performance with unit leaders. They discuss weaknesses honestly and candidly in order to improve performance. But like the whole AAR, this portion should be positive and encourage proud, confident units. Training objectives for subsequent exercises can derive from such an analysis.
Most training exercises integrate several systems such as maneuver, fire support, intelligence, engineer, and maintenance support. They are intersystem exercises. Others train only one system, regardless of its complexity. They are intrasystem exercises. AARs are conducted either consecutively or concurrently at each echelon that took part in the exercise.
For a division FTX, each echelon's AAR discusses items and events relating to the exercise objectives, unit OPORD, and TSOP as they affected the unit's mission. CS units also conduct multiechelon AARs following exercises or after major phases or events during an exercise. FA, ADA, and combat engineer units have special considerations that affect their AARs. CS units normally provide elements, such as FIST and fire sup-port sections, that associate and collocate with maneuver units. These personnel should attend both the maneuver unit AAR and the parent unit AAR. If one person cannot attend both AARs, a representative should attend each one. Commanders of DS units (FA, engineer) should attend the maneuver brigade (third-echelon) AAR and may wish to schedule the DS unit AAR later.
As soon after ENDEX as possible, the company umpire holds an AAR for the company commander, leaders, and soldiers. A maneuver company AAR will discuss--
- Use of terrain.
- Suppression of enemy weapons.
- Coordination of fire and maneuver.
- Employment of antitank weapons.
- Employment of other organic and sup-porting weapon systems.
For example, during the FTX, antitank weapons engaged OPFOR units from defensive positions at the maximum range of 3,000 meters. The OPFOR dispersed instead of entering a kill zone where Dragons could have been employed. The AAR discusses the pros and cons of this event and the tactical procedures. It explores what should have happened and what the results might have been.
During an FTX, elements of CSS units are normally assigned to support maneuver units or areas. After ENDEX, members of CSS units attend the first-echelon AAR of the sup-ported maneuver unit. Those in forward areas should remain in position and attend the AAR of the maneuver unit being supported. Those in rear areas such as field trains should attend the AAR conducted there.
A first-echelon AAR should also be held at company level for CSS units. For example, the maintenance company umpire should conduct an AAR for the commander, leaders, and soldiers. This AAR must be delayed until all members attending maneuver unit or other AARs can arrive and until evaluator observations are compiled. A maintenance company AAR will discuss--
- The capability to repair equipment as far forward as possible.
- Provision of spare parts.
- Optimum use of available spare parts.
- Availability of proper tools.
- Response time to requests for repair.
- Coordination procedures with supported units.
- Tactical operations (rear area security) and survival operations.
It will also discuss how the contact team can get enough information from the unit requesting support so that supervisors send the right personnel equipped with the right tools forward to make repairs.
Second-echelon AARs are conducted only after the first-echelon AARs are held and the necessary observations are recorded. Battalion umpires conduct second-echelon AARs. Battalion commanders, staffs, company commanders, and officers and non-commissioned officers down to platoon sergeants or the equivalent attend. At this echelon, AARs are professional discussions led by commanders and battalion umpires to examine what happened, why it happened, and what alternatives should be used in different tactical situations. A maneuver battalion AAR might discuss--
- Organization for combat.
- Concept of operation and scheme of maneuver.
- Fire support coordination.
- Combat engineer support.
- Employment of antitank weapon systems.
- Communication support.
- Target acquisition systems.
- Staff coordination.
- Administrative and logistical support.
- Integration and orchestration of all CA, CS, and CSS elements.
- Probable results for alternate courses of action.
For example, the AAR might discuss why the battalion did not use combat engineer support properly as a combat multiplier and how ineffective planning resulted in inadequate preparation of the battlefield. The lessons learned can apply to the next exercise. The engineer officer who supported the battalion should be present to discuss the proper use of combat engineers.
A maintenance battalion AAR will cover--
- Systematic procedures for requesting spare parts.
- Procedures for dispatching contact teams to support maneuver units.
- Training shortcomings in specific maintenance areas.
- Communication procedures.
- Maintenance system operations with units above and below battalion level.
- The effect of terrain, weather, and intensity of combat on the demand for various types of spare parts.
- The effect of new weapon systems on maintenance procedures.
- Recovery and evacuation.
- Controlled substitution.
- Maintenance collection points.
- Operational safety.
- Operational readiness plan.
- Mission essential maintenance only (MEMO).
- Repair facility sites.
For example, the AAR might discuss the procedures for dispatching contact teams to perform forward area maintenance and how a lack of organic transportation degraded responsiveness. The AAR addresses alternate means of transportation available to the battalion and procedures to obtain and use them. If the unit SOP seems to be in error, the discussion should focus on correcting and validating it in the next similar exercise.
Third-echelon AARs are conducted after the second-echelon AARs are completed, allowing enough time for compiling necessary observations and examining lessons learned at the battalion level. Brigade umpires conduct third-echelon AARs for the commanders, staffs, and appropriate non-commissioned officers. Battalion commanders, their staffs, and company commanders attend. AARs at this echelon are professional discussions of what happened and why. However, third-echelon AARs include--
- Operations under limited visibility.
- Tactical operations in an NBC environment.
- The impact of new systems and doctrine on operations.
- Intelligence preparation of the battlefield.
- Tactical operations against different enemy actions.
- Effects of enemy EW activity on friendly operations.
- Integration and use of all CA, CS, and CSS assets.
If the exercise were conducted in summer under ideal conditions, the AAR could discuss how the same operation would be conducted in winter on frozen ground and with limited visibility. Under such conditions, operation planning would have to consider--
- Increased control measures.
- Degraded air support.
- Limitations on target acquisition.
- Effects of cold weather on troops and equipment.
- The impact on logistical systems.
Third-echelon AARs conducted for the DISCOM should be attended by the commander, staff, subordinate battalion commanders and staff, and company commanders. Representatives from maneuver and combat support units (FA, engineer, ADA) should also attend. These AARs should cover all aspects of CSS during the exercise and their impact on the tactical operation. Topics for discussion include--
- Medical support and casualty evacuation.
- Personnel and administrative support.
- Supply system operations.
- Maintenance procedures.
- Ammunition hauling and stockpiling.
The AAR discusses the time units actually spent supporting exercise requirements as opposed to the time they spent on scenario events. The AAR compares the training benefits received from responding to actual situations caused by the exercise to the benefits from simulated situations. The lessons learned from this comparison allow planners to schedule events for CSS units during future exercises. They also provide indicators of what will actually be required in combat and allow commanders to fine tune support systems and procedures.
Fourth-echelon AARs bring together comments from all previous AARs and the exercise in general. The exercise director and control staff conduct these AARs. Those attending are division commanders and staffs, along with the commanders and staffs of the DISCOM, the maneuver brigades, and their battalion commanders. Fourth-echelon AARs focus on the exercise objectives and the degree to which they were accomplished. They are professional discussions of the effects of decisions made in response to changes in the battlefield environment. They discuss battle staff training, survivability operations, and the CA, CS, and CSS integration necessary to fight and win air-land battles. They discuss how new systems impact on operations.
Formal after-action reports should be submitted as soon after training exercises as practical. Normally, this is no longer than one to two weeks. Exercise directors are responsible for producing this report.
The written after-action reports inform all units about combat, CS, and CSS problems encountered during the exercise. They document strengths and weaknesses of operations. They also include test results on new tactics, techniques, and equipment. Commanders and staffs should use them as input for long-and short-range planning for training. The format and content of after-action reports vary from one command to another. Exercise LOIs should provide guidance for the format. See Figure 37 for a sample after-action report.
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