Army After Action Review

The Army After Action Review, also known as an AAR is one of the Company Commander’s most valuable training tools available.

An AAR is simply a thorough analysis of a past training event.

The purpose of an Army After Action Review is to review what went right and what went wrong during a training event.

That way, the unit can improve the next time they do a similar mission.

As a Company Commander, you must use the AAR to your advantage.

At the end of every training exercise you should conduct a formal After Action Review with your key leaders and Soldiers.

That way, you can get input from everyone’s perspective, not just your own.

The secret is two way communication.

So, how does an After Action Review work?

It’s actually quite simple.

Listed below we will discuss the Army AAR format or Army AAR template.

Step 1: Pick a location for your Army After Action Review.

Set a start time for the event.

Get a butcher block of paper or dry erase board on site.

Make sure there is adequate seating and/or standing room.

Step 2: Once everyone is present, review the mission and concept of operations for the mission.

Tell everyone what was supposed to happen.

Step 3:
Review what actually happened.

Step 4: Identify what went right.

What went according to plan?

Step 5: Identify shortcomings.

What went wrong?

Ask your key leaders and Soldiers for their opinions, too.

Step 6: Identify what you could have been done better.

What could the unit have done differently to achieve success?

What will your unit do differently in the future?

Step 7: Adjourn the Army AAR and publish the results.

Remember, AARs must be a two-way conversation.

It’s not just the Company Commander talking.

Seek input after action reviewfrom your First Sergeant, Company Executive Officer, Platoon Leaders and Platoon Sergeant.

Don’t forget to get your Soldiers input too.

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At the conclusion of the AAR prepare a memorandum for record.

Give a copy to your Battalion Commander and to your key leaders.

In addition, file a copy away in your After Action Review folder or book.

That way, you can reference the AAR for future training events.

In addition to having company level Army AAR briefs, Company Commanders must ensure their Platoon Leaders, Platoon Sergeants and Squad Leaders are having platoon and squad level AARs.

Company Commanders should give each subordinate leader a copy of TC 25-20 and teach his or her subordinate leaders the right AAR format.

In conclusion, the Army After Action Review is one of the Company Commander’s greatest tools.

The secret is to conduct a formal Army AAR after every major training event.

Follow the AAR format and AAR template and you will position yourself for success.

If you are looking for a reference on After Action Reviews, use Army FM 25-101, Appendix G or TC 25-20.

If you have any questions or added tips for AAR subjects, please post below.

We will attempt to answer them as soon as possible.

Thank you.

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Chuck Holmes

SKYPE: mrchuckholmes
(352) 503-4816 home office
Email: chuck@part-time-commander.com

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16 thoughts on “Army After Action Review

  1. Pingback: Military Leadership Tip about Reflecting on Your Experience | Citizen Soldier Resource Center

  2. scott moore

    I think the best tip I read in this post was getting the soldiers’ input.

    The best practice I have seen yet is to have opinions written down anonymously on note cards and handed to the management for all to read.

    Some suggestions will obviously not work, but quite a bit of good can also come from that. Knowing what the soldiers’ are thinking is important.

    Reply
  3. Jeff Ferry

    An excellent point was to get the input of key leaders and your troops. I've read a few AAR reports that were basically the commander retelling the mission with a few mentions of what went right. If one person does it you will lack the honesty and point of view that it needs. You need to mention the good things along with the missteps you made. It's an after action report not a "Look how we did everything perfectly" report.

    Reply
  4. Greg Boudonck

    The best training in the world comes from experience. Using the AAR for this, a Company Commander is setting him/herself up for success. You hit the nail on the head when you spoke of getting input from all sources. The soldier may have noticed something that an NCO didn’t. From top to bottom, everyone has something to offer. We learn from past mistakes and make amends so that they don’t happen again. Great post Chuck.

    Reply
  5. Amy Skalicky

    Colin Powell gives an interesting perspective of AAR’s in his book “It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership.” Specifically, in his chapter “Mirror, Mirror On the Wall,” he talks about self-examination, individually or as a group, and uses the AAR only as a tool to do so, incorporating it on a personal level as well as a professional level.

    Reply
  6. Nanitertodori

    Your advice about the AAR is the best I have ever read. My unit normally just does the three up and three down method. I never got much value out of that, but I can see how your approach to the AAR would make a big difference.

    Reply
    1. Chuck Holmes Post author

      The three up and three down method is by far the most common type of AAR, usually because the unit’s leadership is lazy or untrained. By all means it’s better than doing nothing, but it would be in a unit’s best interest to do it the right way.

      Reply
  7. Mario

    Spending your time to get organized so you can have a thorough After Action Review is very important. So many leaders simply wing it and go through the motions. You should treat the AAR just as important as you treat the training event.

    Reply
  8. Katelyn Hensel

    I know that the Army, the Marines, the Navy, etc all have their own policies on reviewing failed missions and training tools. It still makes me sad to think that with all of these procedures and policies in place there are still tragic accidents like what happened earlier this week with the marines in the SW. Hopefully practices like the Army After Action Review will make issues behind such problems clear and preventable.

    Reply
    1. Charles Holmes Post author

      No matter what you do there will always be some level of risk in the military. The lessons we learn from AARs after these bad events happen can be very beneficial to preventing these things from happening again.

      Reply
  9. Leslie

    Some of the best ways to learn are to review past events and activities. It’s nice to see you mentioning the AAR here and its power as a great tool for a Company Commander. Doing the AAR with your team is a great way to learn together, to celebrate success and also keep morale up. Constantly improving is the best way we can have the strongest unit out there.

    Reply
    1. Chuck Holmes Post author

      I agree with you Leslie that AARs are a great tool for Company Commanders, but I also know that they work for leaders at all levels, when done properly. Whether you are in charge of five people or five thousand, you should get feedback from your key players and Soldiers so you can improve, talk about lessons learned, and get different perspectives on the situation.

      Reply
  10. Justin Long

    I actually have this printed and placed in my Leader’s Book. I make my NCOs do so as well. I think that so many leader’s have the “old school” method of just saying, “Hey, give me 3 sustains and 3 improves” and the training is never really discussed like it should be. Every AAR that we do for each IDT is also kept in a “continuity book” that I keep in my office as well. That way, next year, when we do say, gunnery, I can review and ensure we don’t make the same errors we did last year.

    Reply
    1. chuckholmes Post author

      Great points Justin. We should all keep a record of our AARs and refer to them from time to time. You can learn a lot by reviewing old AARs. It is a huge training tool when used properly.

      Reply

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