After every mission, Army units conduct an After-Action Review (AAR). Basically the unit gathers around and discusses what they did well, what they did wrong, and what to improve on the future.
The AAR is one of the few Army tools that lives up to its hype. The civilian world uses them; they just changed the name. Some call them “hot washes,” some call them evaluations, some still call them AARs. The point is, they are used all the time.
From divisions down to squads, from training to combat to office work, units throughout the Army use AARs to assess their performance. There are squad AARs, platoon AARs, battalion AARs and mission AARs. I propose a new AAR.
The Army level AAR.
The Army needs an AAR at the highest level. General Flynn, the head intelligence officer in Afghanistan, recently published an article at CNAS titled “Fixing Intel.” It reads like an AAR summary. But why did he have to publish a paper in CNAS? Why didn't he have an Army level AAR to go to?
If our leadership wants to do this well it has to do it the way units conduct AARs. Units don’t commission contractors to provide input. Units don’t bring in outside consultants. Units don't study issues for months or years. No, good units sit down and hash out their issues. They:
1. Get everyone who was involved.
2. They put everything on the table.
3. The leaders analyze the answers.
4. Then the leaders make a plan.
5. As a unit, they hold themselves accountable for progress.
General Casey should bring in all the Army generals, or as many as it can reasonably fit in one room (I know there are hundreds of Generals, more now than in WWII, but bear with me.). For one day they should brainstorm everything the Army has done well and done poorly since 9/11. When they are finished, they will publish the results on the Army blog. General Casey, as a leader, will implement the changes the AAR recommends. It sounds unrealistic, but that doesn't mean its not the right way to do things.
We are slow to change. We are slow to identify our problems. We are slow to admit that we are failing. The US Army has been the primary operator in Afghanistan and Iraq, two conflicts we have not won. The US Army does not need outside advice to win those wars, it only needs leadership. And the Army level AAR.