Chapter 2

Planning the After-Action Review


Leaders are responsible for planning, executing, evaluating, and assessing training. Each training event is evaluated during training execution. Evaluations can be informal or formal and internal or external. Key points for each type of evaluation follow.

Informal evaluations are most commonly used at battalion level and below. They are--

Formal evaluations are usually scheduled on the long-range and short-range calendars. These include ARTEP evaluations, expert infantry badge (EIB), expert field medic badge (EFMB), and technical validation inspections (TVIs). They are--

The unit undergoing the evaluation plans, resources, and conducts internal evaluations. They also plan and resource external evaluations. However, the headquarters two levels above the unit being evaluated conducts theirs. For example, division evaluates battalion; brigade evaluates companies; battalion evaluates platoons; and company evaluates sections, squads, teams, or crews. Observers and controllers assist commanders in the evaluation process by collecting data and providing feedback.

A key element in an evaluation plan is the AAR plan. The AAR plan provides the foundation for successful AARs. Leaders develop an AAR plan for each training event. It contains--

Trainers use the AAR plan to identify critical places and events they must observe to provide the unit with a valid evaluation. Examples include unit maintenance collection points, passage points, and unit aid stations. By identifying these events and assigning responsibilities, unit leaders can be sure someone will be there to observe and take notes. This allows the training unit team to make the best use of its limited resources and conduct a first-class training event.

After-action review plans also designate who will observe and control a particular event. The term observer and controller refers to the individual tasked to observe training and provide control for the training exercise as well as to lead the AAR.

NOTE: Figure 2-1 shows an extract from an exercise plan.

Observer1Lt Jones
Element 1st plt
Priority tasks Occupy, prepare, and defend a battle position
Who attends All
When held 1 hour after contact broken
Location Behind 2d squad GH44319218
Special requirements LTC Smith will provide closing comments

Figure 2-1. An Exercise AAR Plan


When planning an AAR, trainers should select OCs who--

When using external OCs, trainers must ensure that OCs are at least equal in rank to the leader of the unit they will evaluate. If trainers must choose between experience and understanding of current TTPs or rank, they should go with experience. A staff sergeant with experience as a tank platoon sergeant can observe the platoon better than can a sergeant first class who has no platoon sergeant experience.

Observers should not have duties which would detract from their OC duties. If this is not possible, leaders in the chain of command should evaluate subordinate units and conduct the AARs. For example, squad leaders would evaluate the performance of soldiers in their squads and limit AAR discussion to individual actions. Platoon leaders or platoon sergeants would do the same for squads, company commanders or first sergeants for platoons, and so on. If possible, they should avoid evaluating their own duties and tasks. (It is hard to be objective about your own performance and to determine how it will affect your unit.)

Trainers must train their small-unit leaders and OCs. Each OC leads AARs for the element he observes and provides input to the AAR leader for the next higher echelon. Leaders and OCs must be trained in the use of the methods, techniques, and procedures in this training circular. If possible, trainers should assign someone with AAR experience to accompany and assist an inexperienced AAR leader until he is proficient. The trainer must conduct AARs to help AAR leaders improve their performances. Inexperienced AAR leaders should observe properly conducted AARs before attempting to lead one. The trainer must include classes on small-group discussion techniques in OC instruction.


Observers and controllers selected to observe training and lead AARs cannot observe and assess every action of every individual. Training and evaluation outlines provide tasks, conditions, and standards for the unit's training as well as the bottom line against which leaders can measure unit and soldier performance.

Once a trainer extracts TEOs from the ARTEP mission training plan (AMTP) or, if none exist, develops his own, he gives a copy of the TEOs to the senior OC. The senior OC distributes them to his subordinates who review and use them to focus their own observations. The senior OC must be specific on what his subordinates are to evaluate and what standards of performance he desires. When possible, he should list the steps which units must accomplish to properly complete the action. By listing each step, an OC can more readily detect an error, especially in a drill when the actions of one soldier may affect others.

The steps in AMTPs and soldier's manuals provide the standard method for completing each task and help structure consistent observations. Using the evaluation plan, the OC can concentrate efforts on critical places and times where and when he can best evaluate unit performance. This ensures that feedback is directly focused on tasks being trained and provides the unit and its leaders with the information they need to improve or sustain proficiency.


Leaders must schedule time to conduct AARs as an integrated part of overall training. When possible, they should plan for an AAR at the end of each critical phase or major training event. For example, a leader could plan a stopping point after issuing an operation order (OPORD), when the unit arrives at a new position, after it consolidates on an objective, and so on.

For planning purposes, leaders should allow approximately 30-45 minutes for platoon-level AARs, 1 hour for company-level AARs, and about 2 hours for battalion-level and above. Soldiers will receive better feedback on their performance and remember the lessons longer if the AAR is not rushed.

Reviewers must fully address all key learning points. They must not waste time on dead-end issues.


The AAR plan specifies who must attend each AAR. Normally, only key players attend. At times, however, the more participants present, the better the feedback. Leaders must select as many participants as appropriate for the task and the AAR site.

At each echelon, an AAR has a primary set of participants. At squad and platoon levels, everyone should attend and participate. At company or higher levels, it may not be practical to have everyone attend because of continuing operations or training. In this case, friendly and OPFOR commanders, unit leaders, and other key players (fire support team (FIST) chief, radio telephone operator (RTO), and so on) may be the only participants.


An AAR will usually occur at or near the training exercise site. Leaders should identify and inspect AAR sites and prepare a site diagram showing the placement of training aids and other equipment. Designated AAR sites also allow pre-positioning of training aids and rapid assembly of key personnel, minimizing wasted time.

Ideally, the AAR site should allow soldiers to see the terrain where the exercise took place. If this is not possible, the trainer should find a location which allows them to see the terrain where the most critical or significant actions occurred. If needed, the trainer should have a terrain model or enlarged map or sketch and a copy of the unit's graphics so everyone can relate key events to the actual terrain.

The trainer should make soldiers attending the AAR as comfortable as possible (by removing helmets and so on), providing shelter from the elements (sun, cold, rain, snow), having refreshments (coffee, water), and creating an environment where participants can focus on the AAR without distractions. Participants should not face into the sun, and key leaders should have seats up front. Vehicle parking and equipment security areas should be far enough away from the AAR site to prevent distractions.


Training aids add to an AAR's effectiveness. The trainer should choose them carefully and request them well in advance. Training aids should directly support discussion of the training and promote learning. Local training support center (TSC) catalogs list training aids available to each unit. Dry-erase boards, terrain models, and enlarged maps are all worthwhile under the right conditions. (See also Figure 2-2.)

Formal AARs
Informal AARs
  • Terrain model
  • Unit markers
  • Enlarged map
  • Pointer
  • Models
  • Unit maneuver graphics
  • Dry-erase marker board
  • Communications recordings
  • Photographs
  • Rocks and twigs
  • Video camera and monitor
  • Colored chalk
  • Figure 2-2. Training Aids

    Terrain visibility, group size, suitability to task, and availability of electrical power are all things to consider when selecting training aids. The key is planning and coordination. The bottom line is to only use a training aid if it makes the AAR better.

    To select the right training aids, trainers should ask--


    The AAR plan is only a guide. Leaders should review it regularly to make sure it is still on track and meets the training needs of their units.

    CAUTION: Remember that every change takes preparation and planning time away from subordinate OCs or leaders. This may impact the quality of feedback. The purpose of the AAR plan is to allow OCs and AAR leaders as much time as possible to prepare for the AAR. Frequent or unnecessary changes prevent that.

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