The US Army Lessons Learned system has evolved over 40 years to become a model lesson learned system. What began as an AAR process in the 1970s has become a robust system of identifying, collecting, analyzing, transferring, and moving lessons learned at all levels of command. I have detailed the progression of this system using the model I constructed for The Three Eras of Knowledge Management.
The Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) in Ft Leavenworth is the center of the Army’s LL program. Since the beginning of the Iraq war CALL has become a subset of the larger Army Combined Arms Center’s Battle Command Knowledge System located in Ft Leavenworth. The goal of the US Army Knowledge Management System is to capture, integrate and use organizational knowledge to gain an advantage over the enemy.
There are five strategic elements in a robust and effective lessons learned system; Collection, Repository, Transfer Process, Implementation, and Analysis and Data Mining. Each is illustrated here in the description of the Army’s lessons learned system. For many of the elements the US Army has multiple processes through which that element is accomplished, adding to the robustness of the system.
1. Collection: A robust LL system has multiple ways to identify and collect lessons learned
• After Action Reviews (AAR’s) are systematically conducted at all levels on all events. In 2008 alone 20,000 observations, insights, and lessons were collected.
• Collection and Analysis Teams (CAATs ) – Teams (of 10 or fewer) are sent to the field for 1-2 weeks to study issues identified by the command element. Ten to fourteen teams are deployed annually. Members of these teams are from proponents related to the issue being studied. They are directed to work together, assuring that multiple perspectives are considered. Members go to Ft Leavenworth for training in the collection process. While there, they develop a collection plan with sub issues, a question list and a list of people and units to interview. Before returning to Ft Leavenworth to write the final report, the team provides an initial report to the unit Commander for approval. After the final report is written at Ft Leavenworth collection and analysis teams brief the Commanding General of CAC. All of the issues collected are quickly moved out through the L2I network (see below).
• On-line community discussions - peer-to-peer knowledge exchanges that allow soldiers to quickly adapt to rapidly changing situations. There are 60 BCKS functional communities (CompanyCommand, Platoon Sergeant) and as many field communities (CAVNET). A fulltime facilitator supports each community.
• Lessons Learned Integrators (L2INET) – Analysts are deployed with units, as well as being stationed at Schools, the National Training Center, TRADOC and Headquarters. L2INET members are responsible both to actively collect what is being learned in the commands and to disseminate the lessons learned from other commands. The network of 29 members meet regularly on-line and in monthly teleconferences to exchange what they are learning in the field and to understand what other members need.
• Theater Observation Detachment Program (TOD) – Primarily reserve volunteers deployed with the commands for a period of 6-12 months. They are the eyes and ears of CALL. Observers write topical products based on collection in theater and have reach back capability for units. They share information electronically with other units in-country and between theaters. The network of 48 DC0’s hold weekly sessions for the exchange of knowledge.
• Umbrella weeks – Returning deployed units remain in garrison for one week to be debriefed by any proponent that needs their up-to-date information, e.g. replacement units, seniors, policy makers. The event is run by the unit, which solicits interested parties to collect data and makes key people available in response.
2. Repository: A central repository that stores documented lessons learned and makes them available to the whole system.
CALL serves as the central repository for the US Army. Two hundred employees work in the CALL center checking documents for classification, adding metadata and archiving data. CALL center employees also respond to RFis, monitor web sites in operational theaters, and download documents.
3. Knowledge Transfer Processes: Active as well as passive processes for moving the knowledge to targeted areas
o RFI – CALL has 11,000 requests a year that are answered drawing on knowledge stored within the repository. RFIs from deployed units are answered within 24 hours. Sixty percent of RFIs are at the battalion unit level or below.
o L2I network - The L2I analysts deployed with units disseminate lessons learned through other L2I members. L2INET has made a significant difference in the dissemination (flash to bang) of observations, insights and lessons (OIL) and best practices
The 2nd BCT, 10th Mountain Division reported they were using a device called the Rat Claw, a specially designed steel hook, to rapidly pull open HUMVEE doors in order to rescue soldiers trapped in an overturned vehicle. The L2I analysts at 10th Mountain posted a video with specifications and within 24 hours other operational units were able to construct similar devices
o Community Discussions – both functional and in-theatre
An Army Reserve major in Wisconsin wanted to develop a training capability for logistics units deploying to Iraq. The officer contacted a LogNet facilitator and discovered that the Army had no written doctrine or useful instructional materials, so he summoned the logistics community via LogNet. The responses pointed him to a major at Fort Hood, Texas, who had set up a logistics support area in Iraq. The two connected, and the Wisconsin officer found the insight he needed.
Iraqi insurgents placed an IED behind a poster with anti-American slogans. A soldier noticed that the poster looked different from others he had observed, so he entered information about the suspicious sighting into CAVNET. A threaded discussion developed on-line while specialists evaluated the potential threat. When they confirmed the soldier’s suspicions, the Army sent a message via the system to alert other units about the insurgents’ new method of concealing IEDs
4. Implementation methods: Processes to put lessons learned into practice and resolve issues raised in the lessons
• L2I network members have a direct line of communication to unit Commanders who have authority to implement changes within their units
• Community members implement lessons from their peers in the community.
• Issue Resolution Cycle: a quarterly cycle of councils sort, make recommendations, and take action on identified issues
If through collections and observation there is enough evidence that there is a problem, the first level action officers working group vote to take it on, for example instruction in new TTPs. They decide who should be the lead and forward the issue to the Council of Colonels. Issues that cannot be addressed at a lower level go the General Officer Steering Committee. Since funding is above the army level the COS submit some issues to the joint committee
5. Analysis and data mining: Processes, Analytic tools and resources for reviewing and analyzing large numbers of lessons to gain insights that would not be obvious from examining a specific lessons learned. Analysis and mining data:
• Allows for the identification of weak signals that can provide early warning about an issue
• Facilitates finding trends across units and across periods of time
• Identifies gaps in knowledge
One of the troubling realities of combat is that soldiers are in the greatest personal danger at the beginning of their combat experience. Lessons about how soldiers should protect themselves are embedded in many of the AARs CALL receives. But it would be unreasonable to expect soldiers to search through thousands of AARs to find the knowledge needed for their own safety. CALL gleaned lessons from unit AARs to produce a handbook, The First Hundred Days. The handbook is provided to all new combatants before they deploy.
The Army lessons learned system has evolved over time as the model illustrates. As new technology becomes available the lessons learned system has added capability. As new challenges arise in theater, the system adapts. New processes are introduced to meet new situations but the five strategic elements Collection, Repository, Transfer Process, Implementation, and Analysis and Data Mining remain as a constant.