Hide table of contents

For context: I'm an Army Officer and I spent most of my time in Civil Affairs, the international relations arm of the military. I'm doing a series of lessons learned and how they can apply broadly to EA. The views expressed in this article are my own.

I usually do a post mortem on missions, and an extensive pre-mortem.

What is a pre-mortem?

You've heard of red-teaming, where a group of people wargame possible problems, and a pre-mortem is similar to that.


Let's start with the statement what will give any staff officer chills.

"You've failed in your mission. Why did you fail?"

As I'm planning for my big exercise this summer, I brought my red team in and we discussed the most possible to least possible things that could stop our training in its tracks. Unsurprisingly, we looked at historical trends and what was going on currently.

For context, annual training for a reserve unit is when everyone is on active duty for a period of 2-4 weeks and that is when the majority of their training occurs. This is generally held during summer for most units.

We always take the time to do a deliberate risk assessment worksheet to see the big problems that could occur and unsurprising we understand that the big things that can cause us to stop in our tracks involve weapons systems, aircraft and driving. We're aware of those and work around them. The other things? A bit less.

Post Mortem Analysis can help the next pre mortem

Something that happened last year, gave me pause. A unit was quarantined for weeks after (this was before the DOD Covid-19 vaccine mandate) as many members either came in sick and got infected, or were carriers, etc. However, they had a plan. They asked Soldiers to test at home before they left for annual training, had about 39% vaccinated before the training began(this was in 2021).

Regardless (and I'll get permission to post the white paper in its entirety), many individuals didn't mask on their bus ride, or didn't speak up about symptoms, etc. This caused the quarantine tents to fill up and led to a bigger problem, which cascaded into extra days of quarantine.

This is what we are trying to red team

Missions fail all the time, and for various reasons. Many of the reasons are forseeable. Some are not.

If your organization makes every effort to foresee the big problems, and implement risk mitigation strategies, then you will do better than a similar organization that does not.

Something is bound to go wrong sometimes, so plan ahead. Don't obsess over it, just look at what you know, and think about things that you don't know, and say to yourself.

"It's two months in the future and my mission has failed. Why did it fail and what could I have done?"

I hope you come up with something that aligns you to making better decisions.