Chapter 4

Conducting the After-Action Review


The training exercise is over, AAR preparation is complete, and key players are at the designated AAR site. It is now time to conduct the AAR. The leader should begin with some type of "attention getter" -- a joke, an appropriate anecdote, or a historical example that relates to the training, exercise, event, or conduct of the AAR. Then, if necessary, he reviews the purpose and sequence of the AAR to ensure everyone understands what an AAR is and how it works. His introduction should include the following thoughts:

NOTE: Figure 4-1 contains a recommended sequence for conducting an AAR.

Introduction and rules

Review of objectives and intent

Training objectives
Commander's mission/intent (what was supposed to happen)
OPFOR commander's mission/intent
Relevant doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs)

Summary of recent events (what happened)

Discussion of key issues

Chronological order of events
Battlefield operating system (BOS)
Key events/themes/issues

Discussion of optional issues

Soldier/leader skills
Tasks to sustain/improve

Discussion of force protection (safety)

Closing comments (summary)

Figure 4-1. Sequence for Conducting AARs

Soldier participation is directly related to the atmosphere created during the introduction. The AAR leader should make a concerted effort to draw in and include soldiers who seem reluctant to participate. The following techniques can help the leader create an atmosphere conducive to maximum participation. He should--


Training Objectives

The AAR leader should review unit training objectives for the training mission(s) the AAR will cover. He should also restate the tasks being reviewed as well as the conditions and standards for the tasks.

Commander's Mission and Intent (What Was Supposed to Happen)

Using maps, operational graphics, terrain boards, and so on, the commander should restate the mission and his intent. Then, if necessary, the discussion leader should guide the discussion to ensure everyone understands the plan and the commander's intent. Another technique is to have subordinate leaders restate the mission and discuss their commander's intent.

OPFOR Commander's Mission and Intent

In a formal AAR, the OPFOR commander explains his plan to defeat friendly forces. He uses the same training aids as the friendly force commander so participants can understand the relationship of both plans.


The AAR leader now guides the review using a logical sequence of events to describe and discuss what happened. He should not ask yes or no questions, but encourage participation and guide discussion by using open-ended and leading questions. An open-ended question has no specific answer and allows the person answering to reply based on what was significant to him. Open-ended questions are also much less likely to put him on the defensive. This is more effective in finding out what happened. For example, it is better to ask,

"SGT Johnson, what happened when your Bradley crested the hill?"

rather than--

"SGT Johnson, why didn't you engage the enemy tanks to your front?"

As the discussion expands and more soldiers add their perspectives, what really happened will become clear. Remember, this is not a critique or lecture; the OC does not tell the soldiers or leaders what was good or bad. However, the AAR leader must ensure specific issues are revealed, both positive and negative in nature. Skillful guidance of the discussion will ensure the AAR does not gloss over mistakes or unit weaknesses.


The AAR is a problem-solving process. The purpose of discussion is for participants to discover strengths and weaknesses, propose solutions, and adopt a course of action to correct problems. Leaders can organize the discussion using one of the three techniques in the following paragraphs.

Discussion Techniques

Chronological Order of Events

This technique is logical, structured, and easy to understand. It follows the flow of training from start to finish and allows soldiers to see the effects of their actions on other units and events. By covering actions in the order they took place, soldiers and leaders are better able to recall what happened.

Battlefield Operating Systems (BOS)

To focus and structure the AAR, the leader can also use the seven BOS (Figure 4-2). By focusing on each BOS and discussing it across all phases of the training exercise, participants can identify systemic strengths and weaknesses. This technique is particularly useful in training staff sections whose duties and responsibilities directly relate to one or more BOS. However, leaders using this technique must be careful not to lose sight of the big picture. They must not get into long discussions about BOS which do not relate to mission accomplishment.

1. Intelligence (INTEL)
2. Maneuver (MVR)
3. Fire Support (FS)
4. Mobility, countermobility, survivability (M, C, S)
5. Air Defense (AD)
6. Combat Service Support (CSS)
7. Command and Control (C2)

Figure 4-2. The Seven BOS

Key Events/Themes/Issues

A key events discussion focuses on critical training events which directly support training objectives the chain of command identified before the exercise began. Keeping a tight focus on these events prevents the discussion from becoming sidetracked by issues which do not relate to training objectives. This technique is particularly effective when time is limited.


All incidents or near incidents of fratricide, whether inflicted by direct fire, indirect fire, or close air support (CAS), will be discussed in detail. The leader must focus on identifying the cause of the fratricide and develop SOPs and TTPs to prevent it in the future. Regardless of the environment (training or combat), the leader must swiftly deal with all fratricide incidents. As soon as possible after the event, an AAR should be held to discuss the circumstances surrounding the event, using the following discussion points:


One of the strengths of the AAR format is its flexibility. The leader could use the chronological format to structure the discussion, then, if a particular BOS seems to have systemic issues that the group needs to address, follow that BOS across the entire exercise. Once that topic is exhausted, the AAR could proceed using the chronological format. Each technique will generate discussion, identify unit strengths, weaknesses, and training the unit needs to improve proficiency. However, the leader must remember to--


In addition to discussing key issues, the leader might also address several optional topics, included in the following paragraphs.

Soldier/Leader Skills

Through discussion, the unit can identify critical soldier and leader skills which affected unit or individual performance. The leader should note these skills for retraining or for future unit training. (Often it is best to discuss leader skills in a separate meeting or AAR specifically for that purpose. This allows for a candid discussion of leadership issues without wasting unit AAR time best spent on reviewing the entire training exercise.) The AAR leader for follow-on meetings should be a member of the unit so participants can candidly address key training issues without fear of airing dirty laundry in front of outsiders.

Tasks to Sustain/Improve

This technique focuses on identifying tasks on which the unit is proficient and tasks on which they need further training. The intent is to focus training on mission-essential tasks and supporting soldier, leader, and collective tasks which need improvement rather than training to known strengths. Although it is important to sustain proficiency on tasks whose standards the unit has met, it is more important to train to standard on new or deficient mission-essential tasks. Train to weakness, not to strength.


Statistics is a double-edged sword. Effective feedback requires participants to measure, collect, and quantify performance during the training exercise. Statistics supply objective facts which reinforce observations of both strengths and weaknesses. The danger lies in statistics for statistics' sake. Chart after chart of ratios, bar graphs, and tables quickly obscures any meaning and lends itself to a "grading" of unit performance. This stifles discussion and degrades the AAR's value. Statistics and statistics-based charts should identify critical trends or issues and reinforce teaching points. (An example for an armored unit would be to link the number of rounds fired to the number of enemy vehicles destroyed. This would provide a good indication of unit gunnery skills.) Judicious use of statistic feedback supports observations and provides a focus to AAR discussions.


Other topics which participants may need to discuss include troop-leading procedures, troop deployment and use of terrain, synchronization, enemy disposition and tactics, information dissemination and use, obstacle emplacement and breaching, vision of the battlefield, knowing the enemy, and so forth.


Safety is every soldier's business and applies to everything a unit does in the field and in garrison. Safety should be specifically addressed in every AAR and discussed in detail when it impacts unit effectiveness or soldier health. The important thing is to treat safety precautions as integral parts of every operation.


During the summary, the AAR leader reviews and summarizes key points identified during the discussion. He should end the AAR on a positive note, linking conclusions to future training. He should then leave the immediate area to allow unit leaders and soldiers time to discuss the training in private.

Back buttonChapter 3: Preparing for the After-Action Review
Chapter 5: Following Up (Using the Results of the After-Action Review)