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by Lieutenant Colonel Lee R. Barnes, Jr.,
Major Scott Henne, and Major John Antal

Rehearsals were an important key at all levels for success in both Operations JUST CAUSE and desert storm.

Brigade staff trainers have observed that combined arms rehearsals have a direct correlation with the actual conduct of the operation. Unit performance on the battlefield can be somewhat reliably predicted by the conduct of the rehearsal. Actions and decisions that are well understood and practiced at the rehearsal generally work well on the battlefield. Things that are glossed over or are not addressed at the rehearsal often prove to be the downfall of the operation. Additionally, the closer the rehearsals approach the expected conditions of the battlefield, the stronger this correlation becomes. Commanders recognize the need to conduct rehearsals, yet many rehearsals continue to be ineffective for a variety of reasons. This article discusses tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) that have been shown to be effective in planning, preparing and executing brigade rehearsals. The primary focus is on the terrain model technique because it is the one most frequently practiced by units training at the NTC.


DISCUSSION: Brigade commanders and staffs must schedule rehearsals to allow subordinate units time to complete their orders process. Avoid the temptation to force subordinates to pay the price for the brigade to have a "convenient" time for the brigade rehearsal.

TTP: Commanders ensure subordinates understand their intent and specific taskings by conducting an almost immediate backbrief after the order is issued. Rehearsal times are included in the order's coordinating instructions paragraph. Brigade rehearsals are scheduled to allow subordinates at least one third of the available time to plan before they come to the rehearsal.


DISCUSSION: A combined arms rehearsal is more effective than a maneuver, or even a maneuver and fires rehearsal. The brigade subordinate unit commanders need to "see" their relationship to each other as the battle unfolds. The effects on the battlefield need to be replicated in accordance with the plan and the assumptions about the enemy. Timing and spacial relationships are practiced during the rehearsal, and discrepancies are resolved.

TTP: Each subordinate unit commander "plays" himself and the subordinates in his unit. The rehearsal is just that - each subordinate acts out his unit's actions as they will occur in accordance with the brigade and his plans. When possible, each gives the report he expects to give at the appropriate time; the commander should rehearse giving the orders he expects to give as appropriate. Fire support may be rehearsed with the subordinate battalion and company FSOs rehearsing their planned fire missions at the appropriate time and place. enemy events and a general chronology of critical friendly events trigger actions at the rehearsal. The sequence should usually be enemy actions, acquisition of these actions and the subsequent reports, friendly maneuver actions, and friendly fire support actions. As applicable, engineer/chemical defense/ADA/CP actions, and logistics support actions are also rehearsed. Wargaming should occur only when a shortfall in the plan is discovered; otherwise, rehearse the approved plan.


DISCUSSION: An effective rehearsal is one that allows each subordinate unit commander and brigade staff officer the opportunity to visualize the battlefield as it will be during the conduct of the operation. This includes the spacial relationship of each unit, critical actions on the battlefield, the timing of key events, the criticality of his unit or action to mission accomplishment, and actions of the enemy forces facing the brigade. Effective rehearsals begin with a complete, wargamed plan or order. Clear statements of mission, commander's intent, schemes of maneuver and fire support, tasks to subordinate units, and coordinating instructions set the stage for the rehearsal. Wargaming during the planning process enables the staff to develop a synchronization matrix and a decision support template. This wargaming yields the requirements for subordinate unit actions (task and purposes) and determines the criteria to implement changes to order (decision point criteria). Practicing the execution of these tasks, ensuring they accomplish the stated purposes, and practicing the implementation of planned changes are requirements for all rehearsals. The commander may designate critical events he wishes to rehearse if resource constraints do not allow a complete rehearsal. The most effective type of rehearsal is a full-dress rehearsal, but time and other resources often prevent the unit from accomplishing the full-dress rehearsal. At the brigade level, the complexity of operations often dictates multiple rehearsals, often using different techniques. For example, an offensive mission may call for a brigade terrain model rehearsal, followed by a key leader breach rehearsal, followed by a radio (technical) rehearsal of fire support. The following paragraphs describe alternate rehearsal techniques.


Full-dress rehearsals are the most effective form of rehearsals. However, they consume the most time and resources. This technique involves every soldier and system taking part in the operation. If possible, the unit should conduct the full rehearsal under the conditions (weather, time of day, and terrain) expected to be encountered during the actual operation. In defensive operations, the unit can conduct a full rehearsal over the actual terrain. In an offensive operation, the unit should conduct the full rehearsal on any available terrain that closely matches the terrain and space parameters of the zone of attack. This type of rehearsal is the most difficult to accomplish because of the great demand on time and the availability of resources.


This type of rehearsal takes less time and resources than the full rehearsal because it involves only the key leaders of the unit. The unit should conduct the rehearsal under conditions expected during combat operations. This type of rehearsal requires the commander to decide the level of leader involvement. Selected leaders rehearse the plan in their assigned tactical vehicles over the terrain. The terrain requirements remain the same as for the full rehearsal, only the number of participants change. Because of the reduced number of participants, the key leader rehearsal can take less time than a full rehearsal. This type of rehearsal is often accomplished during defensive operations.


This technique can be accomplished relatively quickly and normally involves key leaders. As this is the most commonly used technique at the NTC, it will be examined in more detail later in this article.


This technique has many variations. The most common is to use a large-scale (1:25,000) map and operations overlay, laid horizontally with all commanders seated around it. This technique is especially germane during inclement weather and at night, as the rehearsal can take place in a tent or building. Markers (cardboard cutouts, micro-armor, acetate cutouts, etc.) are used to track each unit as it moves and each key event (e.g., a persistent agent strike) as it happens. Each player is responsible for emplacing and moving his own markers. Another option is to draw a large-scale sketch map of the operations overlay and key terrain and to use this sketch map in the same fashion. Yet another option is to move to a location (at a time) that allows vision of the area of operations, with each participant following the rehearsal using his own map and operations overlay. This latter technique has the added advantage of terrrain familiarization for the participants, but it has the disadvantage of allowing potential misinterpretations and terrain management conflicts.


A radio rehearsal is less time and resource intensive than the Map Rehearsal, but is not as desirable because participants do not share information face to face. The unit can conduct a radio rehearsal at any time. This technique is used extensively by fire support units. To conduct a radio rehearsal, the commander and his staff transmit an interactive verbal execution of critical portions of the operation over the FM radio net. For this technique to be effective, every participant must have working communications and a copy of the unit OPORD and overlays. The unit rehearses only the essential, critical phases of the operation. Prolonged FM radio communciations, even when conducted with secure radios, may offer the enemy vital intelligence and targeting information on the operation. A commander should use this method only as a last resort. In some cases, radio Rehearsals are essential to verify the communications system will work. If you intend to execute the fire support plan digitally via a Variable Format Message Entry Device (VFMED), use a radio rehearsal to test the system. Brigades can improve the effectiveness of rehearsals through practicing the previously mentioned techniques. These techniques can also improve the effectiveness of brigade rehearsals for actual combat missions.


DICUSSION: Brigade staffs should select sites that facilitate the type of rehearsal being conducted. Consideration of the factors of METT-T is necessary to ensure the site is secure, large enough to allow the type of rehearsal selected and when possible, allows vision of the area of operations.

TTP: Participants should come with maps, overlays, and binoculars, prepared to view the area of operations during the rehearsal. Brigade staffs must plan for, and provide security from, ground and air attacks. A rally point should be identified in case the security plan is challenged. Parking must be provided, but the dismount point and the parking area must not attract the enemy's attention. Terrain models and maps should be oriented to north. If the area of operations can be viewed, key terrain must be identified on the ground and on the model or map. Limited visibility conditions must be considered for evening and night rehearsals, and light discipline must be adhered to. Noise discipline must also be practiced-the participants need to hear the rehearsal, not a generator running in the background.


DISCUSSION: Most units training at the NTC use terrain-model rehearsals. This technique takes less time and fewer resources than the Full Dress and Key Leader Rehearsal. It can be conducted day or night. Constructed accurately, the Terrain Model Rehearsal technique can be an excellent three dimensional aid to assist subordinate leaders and staffs to visualize the battle.

TTP: When possible, the unit should construct the terrain model overlooking the actual terrain, or if the situation requires more security, on the reverse slope of a vantage point within walking distance of the overlook. Preparation of terrain models requires the unit to maintain a number of materials. Once assembled, the materials should be inventoried and maintained similar to basic issue items (BIIs) for the designated vehicle that will carry the box. The materials must enable the builder to accurately depict all required information. See the next page for an example of the terrain model kit.
  • Tape measure - 100 yards/meters
  • Engineer tape - minimum 500 meters
  • String - to mark grid lines
  • Yarn - red, blue, green, yellow
  • Nails and tent stakes
  • Index cards - 3" x 5" laminated
  • Alcohol or grease pencils
  • Military symbols
  • Unit symbols
  • Magnetic Compass
  • Hammer
  • Chalk
  • Entrenching tool
  • Sandbags
  • Cotton balls
  • Spray paint - red, blue, green, yellow

Identifying and training personnel to construct terrain models should be a shared reponsiblility of the brigade S3 plans officer and the operations sergeant major. The brigade S3 section should train two primary and four alternate terrain model builders at home station. It takes practice to become a proficient terrain model builder. The size of terrain model or time available may necessitate using additional personnel. The size of the terrain model can vary, from tabletop arangement (a "sandbox") to a model where the participants actually walk through a scaled-down version of the terrain. A terrain model large enough to allow the key leaders to walk over a scaled-down version of the terrain will help participants to visualize the battlefield.


The first step in creating an accurate terrain model is to prescribe the scale. This is easily accomplished by walking off several steps per kilometer, or using some other form of measurement. For example, if the brigade zone of attack is 10 kilometers by 6 kilometers, the builder of the terrain model could assign one step per kilometer and "walk off" the scale of the terrain model.

The second step in developing an accurate terrain model is to lay down selected grid lines established, the builder has a handy reference to measure the size and locations of the terrain features. This simple step greatly increases the accuracy of the terrain model and insures that the terrain features are the proper scale.

The terrain model should depict all the required information shown on the operations overlay and the brigade situation map to include key terrain features, enemy postions (known and suspected) and fire control measures. Place an arrow in the terrain model to depict north for orientation. Label all phase lines, numbered hills, and objectives with their appropriate names.

Once the terrain model is complete, position a map and operations overlay behind or at the side of the model as a point of reference. Attendence at the brigade rehearsal should include, at a minimum, the brigade commander, FSCOORD, coordinating staff, special staff and all TF commanders with S3s and FSOs. A representative from the brigade's higher or adjacent headquarters may desire to attend.


DISCUSSION: The commander commands the rehearsal; his staff runs it. The "director" of the rehearsal is the brigade XO; as such,he rehearses the role he has during the battle. He ensures tasks are accomplished by the right unit at the right time to ensure mission accomplishment, and "cues" the commander to upcoming decisions. His script is the synchronization matrix and decision support template (DST), which are the foundations for the order, recorded generally in chronological order. Once the appropriate group is assembled, execute the rehearsal IAW the TTP that follow. A terrain model rehearsal will take a proficient brigade from one to two hours to execute to standard.


1. Start at the appointed time- don't encourage laggards. Conduct a formal role call; ensure everyone brings binoculars, maps, and necessary equipment.

2. Ensure XO or S3 orients the terrain to the Operations Overlay and map. Point out the key terrain and AAs on both. Orient the terrain board/sand table to the terrain. Briefly explain the markers used on the board.

3. Brief the timeline (Recommend: XO briefs off timeline chart). Designate the rehearsal start time (Rec: -LD- 1 hr, or designated "NLT" - 1 hr). Set the time interval to be used to start/track the rehearsal (Rec: 15-minute intervals, initially).

4. Ensure the recorder (rec: S3 Plans) is ready. Highlight the ground rules. Ground rules should already be incorporated in the SOP. They include who controls the rehearsal (rec:XO), who actually walks the terrain board, how the rehearsal will be controlled, and when special staff officers brief (rec: by exception, as a friendly or enemy event occurs in their BOS).

5. Brigade S3 reads mission statement and commander's intent. He lays out the friendly situation as it currently exists, including adjacent units. He uses the vantage point to show what can be shown on the terrain model to show everything.

6. The Brigade S2 briefs the existing enemy situation (real time). He then briefs the most likely enemy COA, and sets it up on the rehearsal terrain board as it should be at LD, at defend NLT time, or at expected first enemy contact. He also briefs the existing R and S Plan and actions at the rehearsal start time (e.g., patrols still out, OP locations).

7. The Brigade S3 briefs friendly maneuver unit dispositions at the rehearsal start time, including security forces. Other brigade staff officers brief their subordinate unit positions at the start time, as well as any particular points of emphasis (e.g., CHEMO ststes MOPP level: FSO shows range of the friendly and enemy artillery).

8. The commander gives appropriate commands; subordinate commanders or staff officers (actors) at the appropriate time to the appropriate terrain model location. Brigade FSO/FSCOORDs tell when they initiate fires, who is firing, from where, the ammunition, and the desired target effect. Task-force CDRs tell when they initiate fires IAW their subordinate fire support plans: if FISTs are present, they initiate calls for fire.Brigade XO talks for any staff section not present, and ensures all actions listed on the synch matrix or DST are addressed at the proper time or event. Avoid re-wargaming except as necessary, to ensure subordinate unit commanders fully understand it. If the staff has developed an order that addresses contingencies, there will be little need to re-wargame the operation at the rehearsal sight.

9. The enemy is portrayed by the S2 section. The S2 section walks the enemy through the Most Likely Course of Action (Situation Template), stressing reconnaissance routes, objectives; security force composition and locations; initial contact, initial fires (atrillery, air, attack helicopters); probable main force objectives or kill sacks; likely chemical attack times and locations; and commitment of the combined arms and antitank reserves. The S2 must be specific - tying enemy actions to specific terrain or friendly units' actions. The walkthrough should be an accurate portrayal of the event the template developed during the staff wargaming process. The S2 must portray a resolute, but not invincible, enemy.

10. Terminate the first phase of the rehearsal after the desired end state (from the commander's intent) is achieved. In an attack, this will usually be on the objective after consolidation. In the defense, this will usually be after the decisive action, such as the commitment of the brigade reserve and the final destruction or withdrawal of the enemy.

11. When it becomes obvious that additional coordination is required to ensure success of the operation, try to accomplish it immediately. THIS COORDINATION IS ONE OF THE KEY POINTS OF THE REHEARSAL.Make sure it is clearly understood by all players, and captured by the recorder. All changes to the published order are, in effect, verbal FRAGOs. As soon as possible, the brigade S3 should collect the verbal FRAGOs into a written change to the order.

12. After the initial walkthrough of the base order, "recock" to the situation at the initial decision point. State the criteria for the decision to change the plan. Assume these criteria have been met and then refight the fight from that point forward, all the way until the desired end state is attained. Complete any coordination to ensure understanding and requirements are met: record any changes.

13. Go to the next decision point and assume that the criteria have been met. Repeat step 12 (above).

14. Repeat step 13 (above) until all decision points have been rehearsed.

15. Key CSS items need to be briefed, including plans for casualty evacuation (routes, ambulance exchange point (AXP) locations), refuel on the move (ROM), Class IV/V resupply points, forward logistic bases, planned locations and effective times, logistics release points (LRPs), displacement times/locations for the BSA, and EPW collection points. These items should be injected into the rehearsal at the appropriate times. Summerizing these actions at the end of the rehearsal lessens the value of the rehearsal as a coordination tool.

16. After the rehearsal is complete, the recorder should restate any changes, coordinations or clarrifications directed by the commander, and estimate the time that a written FRAGO to codify the changes will follow.

17. The commander should stress any points needing additional emphasis. He should consider reiterating his intent (purpose, importance, end state) to remind all participants that the goal is to accomplish the brigade mission.

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Joint Readiness Training Center
Combat Maneuver Training Center

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