Top 10 Army AAR Tips

An AAR 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. The objective of an AAR is to improve individual and collective task performance by providing immediate feedback about how the training or tasks could have been done better.

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 AAR Tips in the form of questions that should be reviewed before, during and after a training event occurs.

#1.  Are the training/task objectives being met?  Take a look at your 8 Step Training Model analysis and review what the 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?

army aar
Top 10 Army After Action Review Tips

#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 them in a folder categorized by a particular training event or TY 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!

Final Thoughts

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.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes

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13 thoughts on “Top 10 Army AAR Tips”

  1. Great job Justin. I believe that a good system would be for leaders to use the tip outline you put here in a document, and simply answer each one you listed. they can then use their answers to create an AAR.

    What I see is a problem with time management in many cases, and leaders do not realize just how important the AAR process is, but if done properly, subordinates will make the job easier, and AARs will get easier as you unit grows.

  2. A thorough review is definitely a needed thing. Point both the positive and negative out and don’t let the positives slip while you improve the negative.

    It shouldn’t be punishment. It should be simply a review. If you never review, how do you know what to improve.

  3. Amy Skalicky

    You make a great point, Chuck, that simply identifying three sustains and three improves are not enough to complete a thorough and useful AAR. Any leader should recognize the purpose of the AAR, and understand that three sustains and three improves are a starting point. Answering the who, what, where, when, why and how questions are necessary to truly understand the exercise and how to plan for future activities.

    1. Thanks for the comment. The best AARs I ever participated in included the concept of operations, the mission and intent first. After that we covered the improves and sustains and got input from everyone involved.

  4. Two things I like about this process. One, it checks for understanding. Two, it actively solicits feedback and discussion by all of the participants, which I think is key, not only for creating understanding and for improvement purposes, but also for buy-in. Solid buy-in translates into sound investment in the exercise and commitment to improving the process, right down to the personal level.

  5. Thanks for the comment, Chuck. I couldn’t agree more. Often times we see the AAR process as a check in the box and another obstacle to washing our hands of the training event. But, it is a great tool and learning from our history can make our lives all that much more easier. Personally, when I am working to develop my training plan I utilize the 8 Step Training Model…and part of that includes asking “What have I learned from my previous experience?” I will often pull out my Leader’s Book and reference an AAR from an event to ensure that I am not doing the same things over again. This is a money-maker for me, especially during GUNNERY!

    1. AARs are a very powerful resource when done properly. Like you mentioned, many leaders think of it as a “check the box” rather than realizing what they could gain from their AAR. I encourage all military leaders to think of their AAR as the most important part of any training event.

  6. I really like tip # 9 and tip # 10. Visual aids are really important when doing an AAR. If you can have a sand table, map or diagram, that would be very beneficial. Also, your point about using what you learn is vital. There’s not point in even doing an AAR if you can’t implement what you learn! Thanks for sharing.


  7. Thanks for the comments. I definitely agree…any deep concept like I discussed is always better off being explained in a simple and concise manner, provided that it is meeting your requirements. I like that SOP!

  8. My best AAR tip is simply to do an AAR. I’m always amazed at how many units neglect this process. The commander might do one by themselves, but they don’t get input from everyone who participated in the actual training event. I think that is a big mistake.

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