How to Create an After Action Report

How To 5 min
Use this guide to write a report that gives insight into improving processes and tactics for future operations.

An After Action Report (AAR) is a written report that documents a unit's actions for historical purposes and provides key observations and lessons learned. It is typically submitted after a training mission, combat operation or other mission.

AARs provide critical feedback from service members and units on mission and task performances in training and combat. These reports identify how to correct deficiencies, sustain strengths and focus on the performance of specific mission-essential task list training objectives.

These steps use this AAR Template to write a general report, where you identify issues and organize them by topics.

Attention!
Check with your unit to ensure there are no further local policies or guidelines for this task.

In the memo heading, include:

  • date of report
  • who the report is addressed to
  • who the report is from, i.e., the commanding officer and unit
  • what the subject is, i.e., JTO After Action Report
  • the applicable references

An example of After Action Report formatted as a memo of record addressed to military leadership. Photo by DINFOS PAVILION Team
Heading from sample AAR memo. Date: 13 March 2020. Memorandum for.  To: Director, Communication Strategy and Operations. From: Chief Warrant Officer John Smith, Visual Information Officer, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, CA, USA.  Subject: After Action Report for MEFEX 18.
An example of After Action Report formatted as a memo of record addressed to military leadership.
Photo by: DINFOS PAVILION Team
VIRIN: 210114-D-PA656-0001

This section should include a description of the mission and intent.

An example of a concise statement of the commander's mission and intent provided at the beginning of the AAR. Photo by DINFOS PAVILION Team
Introduction section from sample AAR. 1. General Information/introduction. This after action report outlines key observations of COMMSTRAT planning, integration and gaps during MEFEX 18. The ensuing points follow the Observation-Discussion-Recommendation format.
An example of a concise statement of the commander's mission and intent provided at the beginning of the AAR.
Photo by: DINFOS PAVILION Team
VIRIN: 210114-D-PA656-0002

In this part of the report, briefly summarize operations for all phases of the mission and include key dates. Details provided should answer the questions:

  • Who? What? When? Where? Why?
  • How many personnel/teams deployed?
  • What was the time span of the deployment?
  • What was accomplished?

Summary information is similar to providing the 5Ws. This example shows a summary that answers the 5Ws of the mission/exercise. Photo by DINFOS PAVILION Team
Summary section from sample AAR. 2. SUMMARY. The following is information regarding the contingency itself: Deployed Location: Camp Pendleton, CA, USA. Deployed Personnel: CWO John Smith, I MEF Communication Strategy and Operations (COMMSTRAT) section, Major Subordinate Command (MSC) COMMSTRAT sections. Duration of Deployment: Began 26 February and ended 08 March (10 days). Contingency Purpose: In support of MEFEX 18 at Camp Pendleton, CA, USA. Scope of Operation: The COMMSTRAT focus of effort for MEFEX 18 was integration into the targeting process, responsive media operations and refinement of information environment assessment process.
Summary information is similar to providing the 5Ws. This example shows a summary that answers the 5Ws of the mission/exercise.
Photo by: DINFOS PAVILION Team
VIRIN: 210114-D-PA656-0003

Here are some things to consider during this step:

  • Consider the phases of the mission, such as pre-deployment, deployment, redeployment.
  • Make sure to examine both positive and negative issues.
  • Think about the execution of planning, logistics and resources throughout the mission.

Using the phases of the mission, organize the pertinent issues into topics. These will be your headers for the AAR. The number of topics you include is dependent upon the number and type of issues you identify. Topics should follow a chronological order.

Address each issue using the observation-discussion-recommendation format in a bulleted list. Using this format means:

  • Describe your observations.
    • What was supposed to happen?
    • What actually happened?
  • Discuss the impact on the mission, your evaluation and provide a thorough, detailed and concise explanation of the issue (who, what, why, when, where and how).
  • Make recommendations for future missions based on the lessons learned.

This is an example of a topic with issues presented in the observation-discussion-recommendation format. Photo by DINFOS PAVILION Team
Excerpt from topic section of a sample AAR memo. 3. INTEGRATION. Observation: COMMSTRAT in support of Collections. During MEFEX 18, I MEF COMMSTRAT made a concerted effort to inject ourselves into the collections process, both as capability and a customer. One issue immediately identified was that commanders/staff were not leveraging COMMSTRAT as a collection platform. Discussion: Across the MEF, collections managers were not tracking/depicting COMMSTRAT forces available or employing COMMSTRAT capabilities within the greater plan. While COMMSTRAT has certain limitations, e.g., live-feed video, we possess other limited asset capabilities, e.g., low/no light imagery, which can be leveraged to fill collection plan gaps. With the OccFLd merger, COMMSTRAT personnel must be cognitive of legacy COMCAM collections missions in support of battle damage assets, sensitive site exploitation, operational and situation assessment, etc., as outlined in CJCSI 3205.01D and coordinate employment of COMMSTRAT capabilities accordingly. Additionally, COMMSTRAT personnel must explore methods of employing traditional collections platforms to collect on messaging effectiveness and atmospherics to inform the non-kinetic BDA assessment better; i.e., how are we winning (or losing) in the information environment. To this vein, I MEF COMMSTRAT leveraged the existing Request For Information (RFI) process to conduct messaging surveys with the local populace; assess local political officers’ influencing ability; to acquire imagery of potential enemy actions in order to help develop our understanding of the ever-changing information environment; refine messaging themes and techniques, and to prepare pre-emptive press releases.
This is an example of a topic with issues presented in the observation-discussion-recommendation format.
Photo by: DINFOS PAVILION Team
VIRIN: 210114-D-PA656-0004

In the conclusion, review and summarize key points identified during pre-deployment, deployment and re-deployment. Be sure to link the conclusion to ways to improve future training.

The conclusion highlights the most important lessons learned and recommendations to improve future missions. This example provides three key takeaways for improvement. Photo by DINFOS PAVILION Team
Conclusion section of a sample AAR memo. 4. CONCLUSION. Throughout MEFEX 18, I MEF COMMSTRAT learned some valuable lessons regarding proper staff processes (orders cross-walk) and integration (collections processes). I MEF COMMSTRAT made significant steps in educating the staff on the capabilities and value of COMMSTRAT personnel as a collection’s platform. Additionally, I MEF COMMSTRAT revalidated the need for both primary and alternate imagery transmission capabilities and training, along with the requirement of river city exemptions to effectively interface with external publics during reduced/restricted communications.
The conclusion highlights the most important lessons learned and recommendations to improve future missions. This example provides three key takeaways for improvement.
Photo by: DINFOS PAVILION Team
VIRIN: 210114-D-PA656-0005

Provide the point of contact information for the addressee to reach out for further information.

The contact information to include with the AAR is the POC's rank, name, email and phone number. Photo by DINFOS PAVILION Team
POC section of a sample AAR memo. 5. POINT OF CONTACT CWO John Smith, Jsmith@XXX.mil, (555) 555 - 5555.
The contact information to include with the AAR is the POC's rank, name, email and phone number.
Photo by: DINFOS PAVILION Team
VIRIN: 210114-D-PA656-0006

Write your signature at the end of the report.

The report includes an official signature from the appropriate authority. Photo by DINFOS PAVILION Team
The signature section a sample AAR.  John Smith, CWO.
The report includes an official signature from the appropriate authority.
Photo by: DINFOS PAVILION Team
VIRIN: 210114-D-PA656-0007

Don't keep these valuable lessons to yourself. Upload them to the CAC-enabled Joint Lessons Learned Information System (JLLS)-site and/or other applicable locations depending on the classification of the operation.