Chapter 3

Preparing the After-Action Review


Preparation is the key to the effective execution of any plan. Preparing for an AAR begins before the training and continues until the actual event. Observers and controllers should use the time before the training event to brush up on their knowledge. They must be tactically and technically proficient. Therefore, they should review current doctrine, technical information, and applicable unit SOPs to ensure they have the tools they need to properly observe unit and individual performances.

To gain understanding of both the focus of unit training and the exercise plan, OCs must also review the unit's training objectives, orders, and METL. The unit's training objectives focus on the specific actions and events which OCs must observe to provide valid observations and to effectively lead the unit in its discussion during the AAR. Orders, including OPORDs and fragmentary orders (FRAGOs), which the leader issues before and during training, establish initial conditions for tasks the units must perform. The METL contains the complete task, conditions, and standards for each task.


Observers and controllers must focus their observations on the actions required to perform tasks to standard and to accomplish training objectives. To do this effectively, they must identify which events are critical to accomplishing each task and objective. By identifying key events, OCs can make sure they position themselves in the right place at the right time to observe the unit's actions. Examples of critical events include--


All unit activities have three phases: planning, preparation, and execution. These phases can help the OC structure his observation plan and notetaking. He should keep an accurate written record of what he sees and hears and record events, actions, and observations by time sequence to prevent loss of valuable information and feedback. He can use any recording system (notebook, prepared forms, 3-by-5 cards) that fits his needs as long as it is reliable, sufficiently detailed (identifying times, places, and names), and consistent. The OC could also use a small portable tape recorder, but he should not get carried away with gadgets when a pencil and paper would do.

The OC should include the date-time group (DTG) of each observation so he can easily integrate his observations into those of other OCs. This will provide a comprehensive and detailed overview of what happened. When the OC has more time, he can review his notes and fill in any details he did not write down earlier.

NOTE: Figure 3-1 shows a sample observation format using a prepared form. Figure 3-2 shows similar comments using 3-by-5 cards. See also Appendix A for AAR techniques.

Training/exercise title:



Location of observation:

Observation (player/trainer action):

Discussion (tied to task and standard if possible):


Recommendations (indicate how the unit could have executed the task(s) better or describe training the unit will need to improve future performances):

NOTE: Units may modify this format to meet their specific needs.

Figure 3-1. Example AAR Observation Worksheet (Note)

Figure 3-2. Example AAR Observation 3-by-5 Comment Card

One of the most difficult OC tasks is to determine when and where to position himself to observe training. The OC does not always need to stay close to the unit leader. Sometimes he can see more from locations where he can observe the performance of critical tasks or the overall flow of unit actions. However, he should not position himself where he would be a training distracter. He must look and act as a member of the unit (using individual and vehicle camouflage, movement techniques, cover and concealment, and so on). He must not compromise the unit's location or intent by being obvious. At all times, he should be professional, courteous, and low-key.

Another way to observe training is to monitor unit communications nets. Modern technology can quickly record radio transmissions using voice-activated tape recorders or video cameras. By listening to radio traffic, OCs can trace the dissemination of orders and messages as well as monitor information flow from subordinate units. When appropriate, OCs can monitor computer traffic on the Maneuver Control System (MCS) to determine unit actions or status and to identify the impact of inaccurate information on unit operations.


The AAR plan designates a time, place, or method to consolidate feedback from other OCs. The leader will need a complete picture of what happened during the training to conduct an effective AAR Therefore, each OC must give him input. This input may come from subordinate units, combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS) units, or adjacent units.

The leader may also receive input from OPFOR leaders, players, and OCs. The enemy's perspective is often useful in identifying why a unit was or was not successful. During formal AARs, the OPFOR leader briefs his plan and intent to set the stage for a discussion of what happened and why.


After the leader has gathered all the information, he puts his notes in chronological sequence so he can understand the flow of events. Next, he selects and sequences key events in terms of their relevance to training objectives, identifying key discussion and/or teaching points.


The leader selects potential AAR sites as part of the overall planning process. He should select areas near where the training occurred or where most of the critical events took place. However, he must be sure to reconnoiter alternate sites in case he finds he cannot use his first choice.


The leader sets up the AAR site so participants can see the actual terrain or training aids. Horseshoe arrangements encourage discussion and allow everyone to see. Figure 3-3 shows a typical AAR site.

Figure 3-3. Typical AAR Site

If possible, the leader should pre-position training aids and equipment. If he cannot, he should place them nearby under the control of a responsible individual.


After thorough preparation, the leader reviews the AAR format (Figure 1-2), rehearses at the AAR site, and gets ready to conduct the AAR. He should then announce to unit leaders the AAR start time and location. He must allow enough time for OCs to prepare and rehearse while unit leaders account for personnel and equipment, perform actions which their unit SOP requires, and move to the AAR site.

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Chapter 4: Conducting the After-Action Review