[August 21, 2017] It was a gloomy, dark night when we moved into a hide position west of Baghdad from where our unit was to await the approach of a “courier” with suspected nuclear material in his possession. Our mission, hastily assigned, was to intercept the courier and take him and all his possessions into custody. Unfortunately, our leaders had no time to rehearse our plan; a crucial item in the leadership toolbox.
The entire event went haywire somewhere along the line; we never knew what caused it to fail but we did not grab our target. It was a chance to prove that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had a functioning nuclear weapons development program; one of several justifications for the invasion. This happened about the same time as the U.S. Congress was voting on whether to extend funding for the war.
Mission rehearsals are a method of shaking out defects in any plan. It’s been a long-standing part of the military way of preparing for any type of task; small or large. Whether the assigned task is a vehicle convoy, a combat mission, or even an administrative ceremony, leaders of soldiers always rehearse. That way every one should have a better understanding of their specific job and an idea of things that could go wrong.
Ideally, a rehearsal takes place under the exact conditions the real event is expected to develop. That is not always the case, of course, so substitutes are used. One of these for the U.S. Army is the use of a Sand Table Exercise; where a simple ground mock-up is constructed and visually each phase of the mission is discussed. Or, a rehearsal could involve a large-scale mock-up like the one used prior to the Osama Bin Laden raid, May 2011, Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The quality of the rehearsal is often directly related to the success of the mission. The more realistic, the better. Those who run rehearsals are sensitive to using as many variables as reasonably possible to test the knowledge and adaptability of the participants. When military folks are given a mission and no time for a rehearsal, leaders should do their best to at least talk through the event to demonstrate what is to be expected.
Realistic exercises that rehearse any mission is an important item for the leadership toolbox and will help ensure success is possible.
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