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Handbook 09-22
March 2009

Chapter 4

Center for Army Lessons Learned: Collection Priorities

"You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself."

--Sam Levenson

Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) collects, analyzes, disseminates, integrates, and archives Army and joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational (JIIM) observations, insights, lessons (OIL) and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) to support full-spectrum military operations. One of the most important operative tasks in CALL's mission statement is collection. Collection of the latest OIL and TTP and their subsequent integration into the operational and institutional Army helps units and Soldiers meet the serious challenges posed by today's operating environment. CALL collects OIL, TTP, and operational products and records from the field primarily through five methods:

  • OIL from the operational Army
  • After-action reviews (AARs)
  • CALL theater observation detachments (TODs)
  • CALL collection and analysis teams (CAATs)
  • Operational products and records submitted from the operational Army

Observations, Insights, and Lessons

Commanders' responsibilities

Commanders and staffs at all echelons have a responsibility to send relevant collected OIL and other documentary materials to CALL to capture lessons learned products for dissemination to the Army.

OIL definition

Observations, insights, and lessons are information from any source that explains the conditions experienced by military forces during war or training, the issues that arose during those operations or exercises, and the potential solutions to the problems military forces experienced. Examples of OIL include AARs, unit TTP, interviews with Soldiers, incident reports, and most CALL-distributed products.

Observations describe the conditions experienced by military forces during war or training. Example: "The daily average temperature in Iraq country was 110 degrees, and it had a negative effect on troops and equipment."

Insights describe the issues that arose while conducting military operations or training. Example: "Due to the extreme heat experienced in Iraq, the (insert piece of equipment) failed to operate properly."

Lessons provide potential solutions to the problems experienced under set military conditions (for example, extreme heat). Example: "By doing ... X, ... our equipment continued to work despite the extreme heat."

Observations, insights, and lessons are not lessons learned because they have not been validated by the Army's assigned proponents, and there is no assurance an actual change in behavior will occur.

Lessons Learned

Lessons learned definition

CALL defines lessons learned as "validated knowledge and experience derived from observations and the historical study of military training, exercises, and combat operations that lead to a change in behavior at either the tactical (standing operating procedures [SOP]), TTP, etc.), operational, or strategic level or in one or more of the Army's DOTMLPF (doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities) domains."

The lessons learned process (LLP) is a deliberate and systematic process for collecting and analyzing field data and disseminating, integrating, and archiving OIL collected from Army operations and training events. OIL do not constitute lessons learned without changing individual, unit, or Army behavior.

Lessons learned collection process

Units should collect OIL, tactics, TTP, AARs, and other operational and training documentation from relevant sources and forward them to CALL. The sources include but are not limited to the following:

  • Combat operations and exercises
  • National Training Center, Joint Multinational Readiness Center, Joint Readiness Training Center, Battle Command Training Program, and other training center observations
  • Joint and combined operations and exercises
  • Historical analyses
  • Simulations, war games, and staff studies
  • Military observation teams
  • DOTMLPF tests, evaluations, and experiments
  • Modeling and simulation
  • Army transformation initiatives
  • Military response to natural disasters
  • Terrorist incidents

Through both formal and informal means, units conduct collection activities, assessments, and AARs as a basis for forwarding relevant OIL to CALL for subsequent dissemination throughout the Army. At a minimum, observers should identify the task, describe the event, and highlight facts and data to corroborate the OIL. There are two methods of collection:

  • Formal (direct or active) collection is conducted by subject matter experts during operations and exercises. These teams use a prepared and approved collection plan to focus and prioritize efforts. They document and organize, collect operational records and AARs, and provide feedback to the units they are observing.
  • Informal (indirect or passive) collection is conducted when units or individuals submit post–operation/–exercises/–training rotation AARs and other operational documentation to CALL. From these reports and other documentation, CALL extracts OIL for analysis, dissemination, and archiving.

Sending OIL to CALL

Commanders and staffs at all echelons have a responsibility to submit their collected OIL to CALL. CALL is responsible for disseminating this information to the Army through its Website and products. Units and organizations are encouraged to follow the submission guidelines posted on the CALL Non-Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNET) and Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET) Websites (See Figure 4-1) to submit OIL, either electronically or in hard copy digital format (that is, electronically stored/burned onto a compact disc–read only memory [CD–ROM]).

CALL desires the following minimum information requirements for observations:

  • Administrative information, such as unit point of contact information, exercise or operation, branch of service, component, general dates, and locations
  • Observation title
  • Observation and relevant background information that include items relevant to the problem
  • Insight (What happened? Under what conditions? How was the unit or its mission affected and why?)
  • Lesson you think should be learned

The After-Action Review

Army Regulation 11-33, (Army Lessons Learned Program) directs assigned units, brigade-size or larger to submit unit-level AARs and other lessons learned material to CALL for review, analysis, dissemination, and archiving in accordance with the following general guidelines:

  • Units participating in an Army, joint, or combined military operation will submit AARs to CALL no later than 90 days after returning to home station.
  • Units participating in an Army, joint, or combined military exercise or experiment will submit AARs to CALL no later than 60 days after returning to home station.
  • Units completing combat training center (CTC) rotations, are highly encouraged to submit a copy of the relevant portions of their "take home package" to CALL.
  • AAR submission guidelines are posted on both the CALL NIPRNET and SIPRNET sites. See the NIPRNET example in Figure 4-1. Units can submit AARs electronically or in a hard copy digital format (that is, electronically stored/burned onto a CD–ROM).

Figure 4-1. CALL NIPRNET AAR submission guidelines.
Figure 4-1

Writing the After-Action Review

CALL developed an AAR Report Template (See Appendix B) for units to use to prepare final, comprehensive reports documenting recent operations. Its design is based on extensive institutional experience of what makes an outstanding AAR. Commanders are encouraged to include the following key information in their AARs.

  • Commander's executive summary
  • Task organization to include attached units
  • Chronology of key events
  • Number of Soldiers deployed
  • Summary of casualties during deployment
  • Discussion of each phase in the deployment cycle
  • Participation in major operations
  • Discussion of stability operations

Theater Observation Detachment (TOD)

CALL maintains embedded collectors, normally majors or lieutenant colonels called TODs, in designated operational units. CALL uses both internal personnel and external volunteers to fill embed positions. Embedded volunteers include officers from both the active and reserve components to include the Army Reserve and National Guard, CTCs, branch proponents, and training support divisions. External commands support the embed program to improve predeployment training, validate the implementation of the operating environment into training and mission rehearsal exercises, and validate post-mobilization training. TODs integrate themselves into a unit's operations and simultaneously serve as an advocate for CALL. Figure 4-2 depicts the TOD's role as a liaison between the field units and CALL. Other key tasks the TOD performs are:

  • Collecting TTP and OIL in accordance with collection plans.
  • Sharing observations, lessons learned, and TTP with other in-theater TODs and CALL for rapid dissemination.
  • Giving supported command and CALL visibility on emerging issues.
  • Acting on requests for information.
  • Assisting CAATs in country and CAAT collection.
  • Providing reach-back for in-country units.

Figure 4-2. Graphic showing the TOD’s role as a liaison between the field units and CALL.
Figure 4-2

TOD and the commander

Upon the TOD's arrival in theater, he conducts an in-brief with the supported unit commander or chief of staff. At a minimum, the commander or chief of staff can expect to hear the TOD's role and his proposed collection plan. CALL highly welcomes the commander's input to the collection plan and will adjust it accordingly. Periodically, the TOD updates the commander regarding the collection plan's status.

Collection and Analysis Team

CALL has an on order mission to deploy worldwide to collect lessons and TTP from both contingency operations and training exercises. Since September 11, 2001, CALL has sent out 50 CAATs, mostly related to operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Subject matter experts from around the Army comprise a CAAT, which develops issues for collection approved by the Combined Arms Center (CAC) commander (See Figure 4-3). CAATs follow a very disciplined and developed collection process and subsequently debrief the CAC commander regarding their findings.

Figure 4-3. Collection and Analysis Team (CAAT) structure
Figure 4-3

CAAT Collection Process

CAATs execute collection in four distinct phases (See Figure 4-4):

  • Phase 1: CALL conducts mission analysis to develop a collection plan; determine the size and composition of the CAAT; and, subsequently, hosts a predeployment workshop to train the CAAT members in CALL collection methods.
  • Phase 2: The CAAT deploys to the collection site or to the aerial or seaport of debarkation to link up with personnel of the host unit.
  • Phase 3: The collection plan, collection focus, end state, and intent along with unit missions, proponent school issues, and operational considerations drive the collection effort.
  • Phase 4: The CAAT reassembles, normally, at CALL Headquarters and writes an initial impressions report that represents the results of its collection effort.

Figure 4-4. Graphic showing the flow through the four phases of a CAATs collection process.
Figure 4-4

Commander's responsibility to a visiting CAAT

CAATs normally require the following minimal support from the visited command:

  • Administrative and logistical support to include transportation, mess, and billeting.
  • Access to units and leaders conducting operations in the area of responsibility, including access to staff/command updates, planning sessions, and briefings.
  • A workspace with access to communication links that support e-mail.

Operational Records and Products from the Operational Army

CALL highly encourages units to send copies of its key operational records and documents generated from operational deployments. CALL proactively collects copies of many key operational documents from units; however, it is only able to collect a fraction of what is available. Documents collected are permanently placed in the CALL archives, which makes them available for future use to the field and institutional Army. Experience has shown operational products and records are invaluable tools in helping units prepare for an operational deployment to OIF or OEF. Operations orders (OPORDs) and associated fragmentary orders (FRAGOs) alone provide a wealth of operational and intelligence information for a unit preparing for a similar mission. CALL receives hundreds of requests a year from Soldiers, Department of Defense (DOD) civilians, and DOD contractors asking exactly for this type of information. Units are strongly encouraged to send digital copies of the following operational documents and records to CALL for archiving:

  • OPORDs, operation plans, and associated FRAGOs
  • OPORDS and FRAGOs from named operations
  • Commander policy letters and memorandums
  • Campaign plans
  • AARs and lessons learned from an event or operation
  • Key operational assessments and updates
  • Key intelligence assessments and updates
  • OIL
  • TTP

Send the above documents to CALL using the same method described above to send an AAR.


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