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How to conduct an AAR: Mastering the Art of After-Action Reviews (AARs) in the Army


A group of Soldiers conducting an AAR outside by a tent

When it comes to optimizing mission performance in the Army, the After-Action Review (AAR) is an invaluable tool. This structured process allows military units to reflect on their actions, identify strengths, pinpoint weaknesses, and develop strategies for improvement. In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into the intricacies of conducting a successful AAR in the Army.


What is an AAR in the Army?

An After-Action Review, commonly known as an AAR, is a systematic and constructive process used by the military to evaluate and learn from past missions and exercises. Its primary goal is to enhance future performance by capturing lessons learned and implementing improvements.


The Key Components of how to conduct an Army AAR

  1. Preparation: Setting the Stage Before diving into an AAR, proper preparation is essential. This includes defining the objectives, selecting the right participants, and ensuring that all relevant information, such as mission orders and performance metrics, is readily available.

  2. Data Collection: Gathering the Facts During the AAR, participants discuss what happened during the mission. It's vital to encourage honest and open communication among all team members. This includes sharing observations, experiences, and facts, and avoiding blame or personal criticism.

  3. Analysis: Identifying What Went Right and Wrong The heart of the AAR process lies in analyzing the collected data. This involves identifying both strengths and weaknesses. By using tools like the "two stars and a wish" method, participants can highlight what worked well (the stars) and what needs improvement (the wish).

  4. Discussion: Encouraging Active Participation Effective AARs promote open dialogue among participants. Encourage soldiers to share their thoughts and perspectives freely. Facilitators play a crucial role in guiding the discussion, ensuring that it remains focused and productive.

  5. Action Planning: Creating a Path Forward An essential outcome of any AAR is the development of actionable recommendations. These should address identified weaknesses and build on strengths. Each recommendation should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

Best Practices for Army AARs

  • Timeliness: Conduct AARs as soon as possible after the mission while the details are fresh in everyone's minds.

  • Diversity of Perspectives: Ensure that participants represent various roles and functions within the unit to gain a comprehensive understanding of the mission's execution.

  • Constructive Feedback: Promote a culture of constructive feedback rather than focusing on blame. Encourage soldiers to offer solutions along with their observations.

  • Documentation: Record the AAR proceedings, including recommendations and action plans. This documentation is vital for tracking progress and ensuring accountability.

  • Follow-Up: Implement the action plans developed during the AAR, and follow up to assess their effectiveness. Adjustments may be necessary based on feedback and outcomes.

Conclusion

In the military, the ability to learn from past experiences is a fundamental element of success. The After-Action Review process provides a structured framework for continuous improvement. By following the key components and best practices outlined in this guide, Army units can conduct effective AARs, identify areas for growth, and ultimately enhance mission performance.


By embracing the AAR process, soldiers can work together to achieve excellence, ultimately contributing to the overall success of their unit and the mission at hand.


In your quest for continuous improvement, remember the words of General George S. Patton: "If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking." AARs encourage diverse perspectives and innovative thinking, making them a powerful tool for driving success in the Army.


References:

[1] U.S. Army Field Manual 7-0, "Training for Full Spectrum Operations," Department of the Army, 2018.

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