The Army After Action Review, also known as an AAR is one of the commander’s most valuable training tools available.
An Army After Action Review is a professional discussion of an event, focused on performance standards, that enables Soldiers to discover for themselves what happened, why it happened, and how to sustain strengths and improve on weaknesses. It is a tool leaders and units can use to get maximum benefit from every training event or mission.
Here’s an additional definition I found online to describe AARs.
AARs are “a guided analysis of an organization’s performance, conducted at appropriate times during and at the conclusion of a training event or operation with the objective of improving future performance. It includes a facilitator, event participants, and other observers (ADRP 7-0).
The AAR provides valuable feedback essential to correcting training deficiencies. Feedback must be direct, on-the-spot and standards-based.
AARs are a professional discussion of a training event that enables Soldiers/units to discover for themselves what happened and develop a strategy for improving performance. They provide candid insights into strengths and weaknesses from various perspectives and feedback, and focus directly on the commander’s intent, training objectives and standards. ~ NWCG.org
As the commander, you must leverage the AAR to your advantage. At the end of every major training exercise you should conduct a formal After Action Review with your key leaders and Soldiers. Seek input from all subordinate leaders whenever possible.
Army After Action Review: The Steps
How does an After Action Review work? It’s quite simple. Listed below we will discuss the Army AAR format or Army AAR template.
Step # 1: Pick a Location
Set a start and end time for the event. Have a butcher block of paper or dry erase board on site. Make sure there is adequate seating and/or standing room.
Step # 2: Review Mission & Concept of Operations
Once everyone is assembled, tell everyone what was supposed to happen. Review the commander’s intent and concept of operations in detail.
Step # 3: Review What Actually Happened
This is the process of reviewing the actions others took. You look at the facts and get very specific about the details of the event.
Step # 4: Identify What Went Right
What went according to plan? What did your leaders do right? What would you sustain and do again?
Step # 5: Identify Shortcomings & Issues
What went wrong? Why did it go wrong? How could it have been prevented or handled better? Seek the answers to these questions.
Step # 6: Identify Areas of Improvement
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 commander or Operations Officer talking. Seek input from your NCOs and subordinate officers. Don’t forget to get your Soldiers input, too.
At the conclusion of the AAR prepare a memorandum for record. Give a copy to your supervisor 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.
Army AAR Success Tips
Too many times, I see weak leaders conducting an AAR and simply asking for, “three sustains and three improves.” This simply does not produce the tangible results that we seek to get out of an AAR. Here are my Top 10 Army After Action Review Success Tips so you can have an effective AAR with your unit.
# 1: Are the training/task objectives being met?
Take a look at your 8 Step Training Model analysis and review what the unit’s METL Task is for the training event. Is the overall intent of the training being met?
# 2: Are Soldiers/trainers fulfilling their roles?
Again, review your 8 Step Training Model and analyze what each party should be doing. Is the trainer training, or simply standing around? Are the Soldiers engaged and actually training or finding some shade?
# 3: Are Soldiers/trainers communicating effectively?
Are the trainers communicating their skills and knowledge, or are they just reading from a slide show? Are the Soldiers providing feedback?
# 4: Are there any problems with preparedness, procedures, and/or the simulation?
This is a very important aspect to examine when analyzing your training events. Is the training realistic? Does it engage the Soldiers or are they bored and disconnected? Are there any drastic resource issues with training aids or equipment? Was there a lot of time wasted because Soldiers/trainers were unprepared for the training?
# 5: Is the training adequately testing the Soldiers’ capability to implement what they have learned?
Are there opportunities to conduct a “check on learning” during the training? What standards and objectives are in place to measure the success/failure of the training?
# 6: AAR talking points should address the issues witnessed by the leadership during the training/task and any lessons previously learned.
As leaders, it is our sole responsibility to ensure our Soldiers are properly trained. That is our bread and butter. That being said, we need to view training from this perspective and ask some of the questions stated above. Then, jot notes for the AAR discussion as the training is taking place. Are some of the pros/cons of the training reoccurring issues that have been talked before in previous AARs?
# 7: Review and discuss the overall concept/intent of the training/task and critical actions at the beginning of the AAR.
Let the Soldiers explain to you, in their own words, what was supposed to happen. Allowing this to happen will give you a deep perspective in how what you may have laid out is actually interpreted by your subordinates. Determine what they deem as critical vs. what you identified as critical.
# 8: Let the discussion points you observed earlier stimulate an exchange among Soldiers and/or trainers.
You have already identified areas that are “sustains and improves” as you assessed the training/task. Talking points should address the issues witnessed by the YOU during the training! Use these talking points to steer the discussion and listen to your Soldier’s perspective on the why these things happened. The AAR talking points will usually stimulate good discussion between Soldiers. Discussion between the Soldiers should be encouraged. These discussions will offer you insight into:
- Whether your training plan and protocols need to be updated or modified;
- How effectively the training plan and procedures were implemented;
- How effectively the trainers/Soldiers communicated; and
- How effectively the training was actually run.
# 9: Use visual aids to address any talking points.
For example, to verify if the plan was activated properly, a schematic of the training structure might be displayed on a slide to show “who’s responsible for what” and to demonstrate the critical roles that should have been assigned during the training/task. Oftentimes, a schematic can clear up confusion of the players involved.
# 10: Use what you have learned!
Don’t just hold an AAR, type it up, and then forget about it! An AAR is a tool that you should be using as a leader and trainer to streamline processes and to ensure that your Soldiers are receiving the best training possible. Keep your published records in a folder categorized by a particular training event or training period. During your training, planning, and development refer back the AAR conducted the year before to ensure that this year, you are not repeating any of the same mistakes!
Bonus Tip: Make sure your subordinates hold their own AARs.
Make sure your subordinates are doing AARs with their teams. This will give them practice and it will give them additional perspective they might not have gained in your AAR.
In conclusion, these are my best tips on the Army After Action Review. I hope this post helps you use the AAR for what it was designed to do. Do you have any added tips? Do you have any questions? Just post them below. Thank you. Hooah!