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Chapter I


Doctrine has not consistently addressed rehearsals. Two of the best references, FM 71-123 (Sep 92) and FM 7-20 (Apr 92), address rehearsals differently, leading to some confusion. FM 7-20 states there are six types of rehearsals. FM 71-123 refers to types as levels of rehearsals and discusses three. The types and levels presented in these FMs are actually techniques for performing rehearsals. For example, a sketch map, terrain model, and a map rehearsal, as explained in FM 7-20 and FM 71-123, are actually techniques for preforming the same rehearsals. When performed correctly, all three will achieve the same result.

The new version of FM 101-5 (May 1997) presents clear guidance, and this newsletter will follow its lead. FM 101-5 presents rehearsal types and techniques.

  • Rehearsal types are defined here by the purpose of the rehearsal and its respective place on the MDMP timeline.

  • Rehearsal techniques discussed are the ones most commonly used to facilitate the different types.


The five types of rehearsals are:

1. Confirmation brief

2. Backbrief

3. Combined arms rehearsal

4. Support rehearsal

5. Battle drill/SOP rehearsal

Each of the five types achieves a specific result and has a specific place in the Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP) timeline.

1. CONFIRMATION BRIEF - The confirmation brief is routinely performed by a subordinate leader immediately after receiving any instructions, OPORD, FRAGO, etc. Subordinate leaders brief the higher commander on:

  • their understanding of his intent,

  • their specific task and purpose, and the

  • relationship between their unit's mission and the mission of other units.

2. BACKBRIEF - The backbrief is normally performed throughout the MDMP. This rehearsal allows the commander to clarify his intent early in the subordinate's tactical estimate process. The higher commander should use backbriefs to:

  • Identify problems in his concept of operation.

  • Identify problems in subordinate unit commander's concept of operations.

  • Determine how a subordinate intends to accomplish the mission.

3. COMBINED ARMS REHEARSAL - The combined arms rehearsal is normally conducted by a maneuver unit headquarters and performed after the subordinate units have issued their OPORD. This rehearsal ensures:

  • The subordinate units plans are synchronized with the other units in the organization.

  • The plans of all subordinate commander's will properly achieve the intent of the higher commander.

4. SUPPORT REHEARSAL - Support rehearsals are normally performed within the framework of a single or limited number of BOS. Examples include the FS rehearsal or the CSS rehearsal. Support rehearsals are performed throughout the MDMP timeline. Although these rehearsals differ slightly by BOS, they achieve the same result:

  • Ensure the soldiers responsible for a particular BOS can support the higher commander's plan.

  • Ensure all assigned missions will be performed.

  • Synchronize the particular BOS support plan with the maneuver plan.

5. BATTLE DRILL REHEARSAL OR SOP REHEARSAL - The purpose of a battle drill or SOP rehearsal is to ensure all participants understand a technique or a specific set of procedures. This rehearsal is performed by all echelons, but most extensively at platoon, squad, and section levels. These rehearsals are performed throughout the MDMP timeline. This type of rehearsal is not limited to published battle drills. It could be the rehearsal of a TOC shift change, obstacle breach lane-marking SOP, actions a POL section takes at a ROM site or a section action in the defense of the BSA.


Techniques for performing rehearsals are limited only by the resourcefulness of the unit. Generally six techniques are used. The techniques discussed here are:

1. Full dress

2. Reduced force

3. Terrain model

4. Sketch map

5. Map

6. Radio

These six techniques range from extensive preparation, in time and resources, to minimal preparation. As they are listed, each takes a decreasing amount of time and resources to prepare and conduct. Each rehearsal technique provides different degrees of understanding for the participants and has different security risks. Figure 1 shows the rehearsal techniques in their relative positions, considering: Time, Resourcing, OPSEC, Participation, and Level of Understanding Gained.

"Commanders training together and knowing each other, rehearsing and practicing operations, holding AARs immediately after an exercise, refining and enforcing SOPs, and ensuring there is good understanding two levels up and down are a few of the things we need to emphasize."
-- COL Don Holder, Cdr, 2ACR, Operation DESERT STORM

Considerations for these six rehearsal techniques are addressed below. The framework for the discussion is:

  • Time: amount required from planning to execution;
  • Multi-Echelon: how many echelons can participate in the rehearsal;
  • OPSEC: how easily the enemy can gather intelligence from the rehearsal; and
  • Terrain: technique-specific terrain management considerations.

1. FULL DRESS REHEARSAL - The full dress rehearsal produces the most detailed understanding of the mission. It involves every soldier and system participating in the operation. If possible, units should conduct full dress rehearsal under the same conditions, weather, time of day, terrain, etc., as the force will encounter during the actual operation. This may include the use of live ammunition. The full dress rehearsal is the most difficult to accomplish, especially at higher command levels.

Considerations for the Full Dress Rehearsal --

a. Time: Full dress rehearsals are normally the most time consuming of all the rehearsal techniques. At the BDE and TF levels, ensure you do not encroach subordinate unit timelines by scheduling a full dress rehearsal at your own convenience. For smaller units (company and below), full dress rehearsals are the most effective technique for ensuring everyone in the operation understands their part of the mission.

Technique: Immediately prior to the full dress rehearsal, units might consider holding a reduced force rehearsal to ensure the leaders thoroughly understand the mission. Although this may look like it will require more time, the time spent with just the leaders will ensure the full dress rehearsal goes smoothly and efficiently.

b. Multi-Echelon: A subordinate unit can perform a full dress rehearsal as part of a larger unit's reduced force rehearsal.

Example: A company rehearsing an engagement area. One platoon has a contingency calling for it to reposition. The leaders of the company rehearse their actions while the entire repositioning platoon conducts a full dress rehearsal.

c. OPSEC: The movement of a large body of the force will certainly attract attention from the enemy. Units must develop a plan to ensure the rehearsal is protected from the eyes of the enemy.

d. Terrain: Terrain management for the full dress technique can be difficult if it is not planned into the initial array of forces. The rehearsal area must be identified, secured, cleared and maintained throughout the rehearsal process. During offensive operations, a second set of graphics must be developed for the rehearsal to mirror the actual plan. During the defense, the rehearsing unit may already be occupying the terrain, and a second set of graphics may not be necessary.

2. REDUCED FORCE REHEARSAL - This rehearsal technique normally takes less time and resources than a full dress rehearsal because it involves only the unit's and subordinate unit's key leaders. Terrain requirements are the same as for a full dress rehearsal, only the number of participants changes. The commander first decides the level of leader involvement desired. The selected leaders then rehearse the plan while traversing the actual or like terrain. Commanders often use this rehearsal to rehearse the fire control measures in an engagement area. However, as during full dress rehearsal, it is highly susceptible to enemy combat intelligence activities. The reduced force rehearsal allows the leadership to rehearse the mission before moving to the full dress rehearsal. A form of Reduced Force Rehearsal is commonly called a TEWT (Training Exercise without Troops).

Considerations for the Reduced Force Rehearsal --

a. Time: The reduced force rehearsal normally requires less time than the full dress technique. This is an excellent way for smaller units to ensure leaders understand all required missions before moving to a full dress rehearsal. However, consider the subordinate unit's time table prior to scheduling the rehearsal.

b. Multi-Echelon: A small, subordinate unit can perform a full dress rehearsal as part of a larger unit's reduced force rehearsal.

Technique: While the Task Force performs a reduced force rehearsal of a breach, the breach force CO/TM can rehearse actions at the breach at full dress level.

c. OPSEC: This rehearsal is not as likely to become an OPSEC problem as the full dress because the rehearsing unit is smaller. However, the number of radio transmissions remains about the same as the full dress and must be considered.

d. Terrain: Terrain management for the reduced force rehearsal can be just as difficult as the full dress. The rehearsal area must be identified, secured, cleared and maintained throughout the rehearsal process. As with the full dress rehearsal, a second graphic may have to be developed mirroring the actual plan but modified to fit the rehearsal terrain.

3. TERRAIN MODEL REHEARSAL - This rehearsal takes less time and fewer resources than the key leader rehearsal and is the most popular technique. The commander decides on the level of leader involvement, then has a scale terrain model of the Area of Operations constructed. An accurate terrain model can help subordinate leaders visualize the battle and their commanders' intentions. When possible, the commander should place the terrain model where it overlooks the actual terrain of the area of operations. However, if the situation requires more security, the terrain model can be placed on the reverse slope within walking distance of a point overlooking the area of operations. The model's orientation should coincide with the actual orientation of the terrain to help participants orient to the actual area of operations. The size of the terrain model can vary from where icons are moved to represent units to a large model on which the participants can walk. A large model helps reinforce participants' perception of relative positions of units on the actual terrain. Additional modeling techniques are discussed in Chapter V.

Considerations for the Terrain Model Rehearsal --

a. Time: The most time-consuming part of the technique can be the construction of the terrain model. Units must have a clear SOP stating who builds it, how it is built, and when it is built to ensure the model is accurate, large enough, and in sufficient detail to rehearse the mission.

b. Multi-Echelon: Terrain model rehearsals can easily involve many different types of leaders. This, combined with an efficient use of time, make it a very effective multi-echelon technique.

c. OPSEC: This rehearsal can become an OPSEC problem if the area around the rehearsal site is not secured. The collection of commanders and their vehicles can bring attention from the enemy. Upon completion of the rehearsal, ensure the terrain model is sanitized.

d. Terrain: Terrain management is not as difficult as the previous techniques. The location of the site must be easy to find for the friendly commanders, yet invisible to the enemy. The optimum location is overlooking the terrain on which the mission will be performed.

Technique: Use engineer assets to prepare the terrain model area. A SEE can quickly scrape a small area smooth and level and then help pile up the spoil for a viewing area or to develop terrain features. Sign/Labels must be large enough to read from the viewing distances.

4. SKETCH MAP REHEARSAL - Units can use this technique almost anywhere day or night. The procedures are the same as for a terrain model rehearsal, except the commander uses a sketch in place of a model. Sketches must be large enough for all participants to see as each subordinate walks through the interactive verbal execution of the operation. Units move symbols to represent their maneuver and location on the sketch. This technique is very effective for confirmation briefs and backbriefs.

Considerations for the Sketch Map Rehearsal --

a. OPSEC: As with the terrain model, this rehearsal can become an OPSEC problem if it is performed outside and the area around the rehearsal site is not secured. Another concern is that the collection of commanders and their vehicles can bring attention from the enemy.

b. Terrain: The optimum location is overlooking the terrain on which the mission will be performed.

Technique: To create an accurate larger scale sketch: Copy the area of operations from a 1:50,000 map onto an overhead projection slide by using either a copy machine or an alcohol pen. Project the slide onto butcher paper or white sheet using an overhead projector. Trace a few key reference points and terrain features onto the paper or sheet. When the terrain sketch is finished, place the graphics onto the projector and sketch them on the sheet or butcher paper. This technique will provide a sketch with an accurate and consistent scale which can be produced as large as required. A second technique is to use a Diazio machine, commonly found in most brigade TOCs to create the sketch map in a large format. When automation is not available, a large section of canvas and chalk will work just as well, e.g., on the TOC liner using colored chalk, or on a poncho or sheet.

Technique: Have the TOC NCOIC produce several sketch maps on butcher paper while the OPORD is being given. Then these are available for briefbacks immediately following the OPORD.

5. MAP REHEARSAL - The map rehearsal procedures are similar to the sketch map rehearsal, except the commander uses a map and operation overlay of the same scale as being used to plan and control the operation.

Considerations for the Map Rehearsal --

a. Time: The most time-consuming part is the rehearsal itself. The setup for this rehearsal is normally the easiest because it only requires maps and the current operational graphics.

b. OPSEC: As with the terrain model technique, this may be an OPSEC problem if it is performed outside and the area around the rehearsal site is not secured. Another concern is the collection of commanders and their vehicles can bring attention from the enemy.

c. Terrain: The optimum location is overlooking the terrain on which the mission will be performed.


  • Subordinate leaders follow the rehearsal on their own map and overlay.

  • Place the map and overlay horizontally, moving unit symbols across the map as in a wargame to show the planned sequence of actions. The map must be oriented and have the current graphics posted.

  • To ensure clarity, the commander should conduct this rehearsal at a vantage point overlooking the terrain of the area of operations.

6. RADIO REHEARSAL - The commander and his staff conduct radio rehearsals by interactively and verbally executing critical portions of the operation over established communications networks. This is accomplished in a general sequence of events which the commander establishes. Because of the obvious dangers involved with using this particular rehearsal, only the essential, most-critical portions of the operation are rehearsed. When used, these rehearsals include all communications facilities and equipment necessary to conduct that actual portion of the operation. To be effective, all participants must have working communications equipment and a copy of the OPORD and overlays. The TOC can rehearse tracking the battle simultaneously.

Considerations for the Radio Rehearsal --

a. Time: This method can be very time consuming if the unit does not have a clear SOP for performing this rehearsal. Using this technique requires all units to have operational communications systems.

Technique: Units must practice HOW to conduct a radio rehearsal before actually attempting to conduct one. A technique is to practice first with everyone in the same room. Once the flow of events is established, practice it from the remote locations.

b. OPSEC: As with the full dress and key leader rehearsals, this rehearsal can become an OPSEC problem because of the volume of the radio transmissions and potential compromise of information through enemy radio monitoring. A different set of frequencies should be used to protect the ones to be used for the operation. The use of wire systems is an option but does not exercise the radio systems which is the strong point of this rehearsal technique.

"You can reduce the amount of confusion on the battlefield by conducting detailed, thorough rehearsals. Commanders must command forward."
-- COL Lon E. Maggart, CDR, 1st BDE 1ID, Operation DESERT STORM

"Detailed, yet simple plans rehearsed to the point that everyone understands their piece in the fight and are confident with their ability to execute, and then decentralized execution."
-- COL James T. Hill, CDR, 1st Bde, 101st ABN (AASLT), Operation DESERT STORM

"So the advantage I had, and my commanders had, was that we had been part of the rehearsal (and) saw the problems (ahead of time)."
-- COL Jack P. Nix, Jr., CDR, 1st BDE, 82d ABN, Operation JUST CAUSE


Site Selection - The most important criterion is that the site facilitates the selected rehearsal. However, several other factors must also be considered:

  • Security: The site must be secure from attack (ground and air) and from observation. A well-placed observer can compromise your entire operation. Plan a rally point in case of attack or artillery strike.

  • Limited Visibility: Consider both the ability of the participants to see and light discipline.

  • Noise Discipline: While compromise of the rehearsal is a concern, an even grater problem is the ability of the participants to hear the rehearsal, not generators, aircraft, or vehicles in the background.

  • Parking: Tactical parking must be available for both wheeled vehicles and aircraft, but the dismount point must not be in a position to attract enemy attention.

Which Rehearsal Type or Technique is Best - There is no right answer to which rehearsal is correct, only which is most effective as the conditions of METT-T are applied. Remember, the most effective technique is normally the full dress rehearsal, but it is not always the most practical technique.

Home-Station Training - Units must take advantage of every opportunity at home station to train the rehearsal process. Simulation exercises, TEWTs, and staff rides all present opportunities to train rehearsals. Train the process, then rehearse your rehearsal. Conduct an after-action review of your rehearsal process after every rehearsal.

The Sequence and Timing - There are two basic approaches to sequencing the rehearsals. One is for the sequence to follow the flow of the OPORDs down from BDE to PLT. Although normally easier to manage on a timeline, this technique does not allow the subordinate to be truly prepared for the higher unit rehearsal because he has not been allowed to conduct his own. The other is for the rehearsals to begin at the lowest level and move up the chain. This allows the subordinate to more accurately portray his planned action because he has completed a rehearsal of his actions.

Whichever time management technique is selected, small unit rehearsals must be conducted under similar conditions as those expected during actual mission execution, but first must be performed with the aid of daylight. As the higher unit builds its timeline, saving daylight hours for use by small units rehearsals becomes critical and must be planned into the timeline.

Technique: Knowledge of the subordinate unit's plan is critical to the commander, but often he does not have time to attend all the subordinate unit rehearsals. One technique is for the commander to attend the main effort Combined Arms rehearsal, and the S3 and CSM to attend the supporting units rehearsals. This provides the unit with a higher headquarter's representative who has the authority to adjust the plan as additional issues arise at the rehearsal. The S3 or CSM can also take back issues, problems, and coordination instructions to the TOC for followup and resolution.

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