From Afghanistan

Mission Briefs

So the other day a friend of mine was emailing me about how he is starting to get bored with his project meetings because they happen every day and every day is a new project. I had to laugh for a moment and decided to write back to him about the type of project meetings that happen in the Army. There are three basic types of Project Meetings in the Army but we call them Mission Briefs.

First, there are the closed door and secured room type, second is the on the hood of a Humvee type and third are my favorite - the drawing on the forest floor using bottle caps to represent the scene. Now all these Mission Briefs have numerous things in common and very distinct differences. The things they have in common have become so routine, for me it has the comfort of going to Mass. Even if I am sleepy, I know when to stand, I know when to sit and I can guess when to kneel.

A Mission Brief has 5 basic components to it. There are the Situation, Mission, Execution, Service & Support and Command & Control paragraphs. Each of these are important to specific individuals based on their job but if you had to pick a star, the Mission paragraph would be the star and the Execution section would take center stage. Why? If you don't know what you're doing then the mission is going to resemble a group of unsupervised five year olds trying to bake a cake - confused and destined for failure.

The stage for the Mission Brief is always set with common characteristics - the ever-familiar grouping of a bunch of people who are making small talk and little jokes waiting patiently for the brief to begin and be over so they can start to work. If you're in a secured room, the person presenting the brief is setting up 20 minutes before the first person arrives. If you're in the field, the person responsible for the brief is setting up while everyone is around and if you're briefing on the hood of a Humvee, then the person giving the brief generally shows up last. Regardless - no matter where you are - when you're the one giving the information, as you say "All right, let's get started," everyone shuts up and focuses - even those who might outrank you. The military has found out over time that a mission can be very disastrous if even one person isn't paying attention.

The setting up and prep phase is critical. Frequently those done inside have a lot of eye candy, where the whole mission is written out for the briefer to point to with a laser or stick. One done in the field is usually set up with a cool sand table, where you get to play in the dirt with sticks and leaves to make a model. This way the briefer can say "If you can use your imagination, this bottle cap is Private Smith." But on the hood of a Humvee the prep time is little so you get the old, "do you remember that time," speech and maybe a stick figure is drawn in the hood's dust to add flair.

Every Mission Brief starts off with the situation. It is a basic snapshot of what has been happening in your area of responsibility over the past 24 hours to update you on the current news. It is the equivalent of the 10 o'clock news for a mission. It includes both friendly and enemy activity so you feel a sense of comfort before the brief gets under way. This way you don't get lost in the weeds without an overview of the field.

The Mission part of the brief is a very to the point one sentence outline of the concept. It generally starts off with a bold statement of what you're going to do, then in the middle it has the key phase "in order to _____________" - filled in with the basic reason for the mission. This is the drive to the whole plan. The task and purpose of a mission give everyone from private to general a goal to obtain and a reason why. When everything is said and done and the mission is over, you look back and assess if you achieved the goal. Sometimes you can execute a perfect mission from a tactical sense and miss the goal completely.

The third paragraph of a mission brief is the execution phase. This is the meat and potatoes of the whole brief. Here a soldier finds out exactly what part they play in the mission. It has a timeline of events that starts from when the soldiers prep for the mission right up to the time of consolidating and reorganizing at the end. I know that when the Army Rangers do this part of the brief they are very specific and every soldier is named and walked through his part in considerable detail. This way there is no confusion and everyone knows everyone else's part. This way if someone is injured or unable to complete his task, then another soldier can take his place. It is sort of making everyone an understudy for everyone else. When we do our rehearsals before a mission, we take critical information from this section so we can focus on what we need to practice.

Then the service and support paragraph of a mission brief is given. This part is generally briefed by the senior noncommissioned officer or NCO. Why? This is because the NCO is the backbone of the military. Regularly the NCO is the one who is filling all the parts of the mission that are not briefed. The NCO makes sure that everyone is dressed properly for the mission. He attends to making sure that the vehicles are fueled up and that everyone has ammunition; it is this attention to detail on the part of an NCO that insures the mission is a success. Oftentimes this is taken for granted, but every good officer was made so by a great NCO. So as a rule, responsibility for the service and support section is delegated to the NCO because he will insure that critical information is included in the brief that might be otherwise be overlooked in the planning phase.

Finally, there is the command and control portion of the mission brief. Here is where the chain of command is established. The communication details are given at this time as well so everyone can understand the commander during the mission. Even though you would think this is critical information it is often a sidebar note during the brief. This is ironic since communications can be as critical if not more important than a weapon in a mission. Most missions never use a weapon but communication is imperative throughout the entire course of a mission.

So I e-mail my friend this process and explain that we go through this every day - sometimes more than once. It is important to do because on average, the missions any American Soldier performs generally don't end up as planned, but it is the flexibility of our planning that makes the mission a success. We don't just plan for the event of the mission; we also plan for the "what if" factor. What if this happens or what if that happens? Oftentimes the greatest plans are interrupted by a "what if" and it's our ability to react that makes us so great. So next time my friend complains, I hope he can approach his project meeting with the same sense of responsibility that we apply to our Mission Briefs.

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