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Posted on Sep 14, 2011 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101 064 – Rehearsals

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland


The Chinese were now on the position and firing at whatever was coming or going on the slope below them. At that point I issued the shortest five paragraph field order of my career, F*** it, LET’S GO! As if by magic the squads and fire teams dropped their heavy packs, spread out and assaulted, the BARs (Browning automatic rifles) gaining fire superiority as we went. It was just like the endless assault drills we practiced at Camp Tripoli while in reserve. Like the working of the human hand, each finger is different and moves independently, but all works in harmony to do what the hand needs to do. A well trained unit, with perfect trust in one another, operates the same way.”


Lieutenant-General Bernard Trainor
"Observations of Combat in Korea"


Our last article delved into the world of the concept of operation. Without question, this is one of the most important pieces of the Operations Order. Our article included several diverse sections related to the concept. First, we provided some examples in history where commanders got it right and when they got it wrong in regards to delivering their concepts. Second, we gave you a scenario in which you had a chance to craft your own concept of operation. Finally, we showcased three examples of concept of operations which we labeled, the good, bad, and ugly.


**At the end of our last article, we stated our next article would be on the Matrix Operation Order. Due to some changes in the tactical situation, we have seized another opportunity. Do not fear. We will address the Matrix Operations Order in the very near future.**

We will shift gears a bit this month and address rehearsals. We will spend the next two articles keying on the topic. In our experience, the rehearsal can be a tremendous asset in preparing a unit for executing its’ future mission. Vice versa, it can be a colossal waste of time and can cause more harm than good in potential mission accomplishment. This month’s article will address several topics that relate to rehearsals. They include: 1) The definition, purpose and goals of a rehearsal. 2) The types of rehearsals 3) How to plan a rehearsal. 4) How to prepare for a rehearsal.

Next month, we will complete the mini-series by focusing on three areas. First, we will dissect the execution of a rehearsal. Second, we will provide you with a script for executing a rehearsal. Finally, we will highlight the keys to success in executing a quality rehearsal. Let’s move out!


The dictionary defines a rehearsal as: “A session or series of sessions in which something that is to be done later, especially a public performance, is practiced”. Rehearsals are conducted in all types of endeavors and professions. In sports, the pre-game walkthroughs of plays is a staple. Those of you who participated in the old high school play remember the seemingly endless hours of rehearsals. In combat operations, the concept of a rehearsal is basically the same except the stakes are infinitely higher! In basic terms, it is a structured event in which a unit ‘practices’ key events or activities which are critical in the unit accomplishing their mission.


Why do we conduct rehearsals? The answer is really three-fold. First, it enables a unit to practice key pieces of their plan. These pieces will be critical in achieving the unit’s mission. Second, by practicing these key pieces, soldiers in these units will be able to better visualize the mission they will soon undertake. Finally, this visualization should in turn build confidence within the unit that they can execute these key actions and thus, achieve their mission.


  • Enable subordinates to develop a true understanding of the commander’s intent.
  • Assist subordinates in confirming the commander’s concept of operation.
  • Provides a final sanity check on the ability of the plan to achieve the unit’s mission.
  • Instill confidence in all subordinates in the ability of the unit to achieve its’ mission.
  • Work out solutions to problems if they arise during the execution of the rehearsal.
  • Develops synchronization between the battlefield operating systems. This is achieved by coordinating the timing of key actions and ensuring subordinates understand their responsibilities.
  • Provides one final forum where the leaders of a unit can discuss their upcoming mission.
  • Finalizes key products that will be utilized in the execution of the mission (primarily, the Decision Support Template).


There are numerous types of rehearsals a commander has at his disposal. The one he ultimately utilizes depends on several variables.First, of course, is time available. As you will see below, some types of rehearsals require significant time to plan, prepare and to eventually execute. Others entail minimal time in these areas. Second, is the current and future tactical situation. Based on current and future enemy actions; some types of rehearsals are far more appropriate than others.Third, is the terrain available for conducting the rehearsal. There are some types of rehearsals that need a significant amount of terrain for execution. Fourth, is the amount of personnel available to plan and prepare the rehearsal. There are types of rehearsals requiring many personnel to conduct effective planning and preparation of the rehearsal. Fifth, is the experience and skills of the staff in planning and preparing types of rehearsals. If a staff does not have the talents to pull-off a certain type of rehearsal, it is ill-advised to conduct that type of rehearsal. Sixth, are the Operational Security (OPSEC) considerations of conducting the various types of rehearsals. If surprise is a key factor in mission accomplishment, some types of rehearsals have a greater possibility of tipping your hand to your enemy.

Some words of wisdom — a poorly executed rehearsal is worse than conducting no rehearsal at all. With those variables in mind, let’s highlight the different types of rehearsals. We will go from potentially the most effective and desirable to the least effective and desirable.

Full Rehearsal.

If the time is available and the resources are available; then the full rehearsal is the preferred technique. As the name suggests, a full rehearsal involves the entire unit. The commitment for a full scale rehearsal is significant in terms of time, personnel, terrain, and potentially resources such as fuel. It also can produce wear and tear on vehicles and equipment. With this in mind, the bang better be there!

Within the full rehearsal, you will focus on a couple key events that are essential to mission accomplishment. For example, in the offense you may have the unit rehearse your actions on the objective or if there is a large complex obstacle that the unit must breach you could rehearse that operation.

To fully capitalize on the benefits of a full rehearsal, you should strive to conduct the rehearsal during the same time of the day as your mission. For instance, if you are conducting a night attack; then conduct the rehearsal at night. This obviously can make the rehearsal much more challenging to execute. However, the resulting realism can pay huge benefits!

A Commander should consider the following when contemplating a full rehearsal:

  • Because of the time it takes to conduct the full rehearsal, you must ensure it is not time that your subordinates could better utilize in their own preparation.
  • A full rehearsal conducted by tanks and infantry fighting vehicles can clearly produce a large signature. If you believe the enemy seeing this signature will tip your hand on future operations, then perhaps, the full rehearsal should not be utilized.
  • Depending on the unit, a full rehearsal can eat up a lot of real estate. If the terrain is not available or if the ‘right’ terrain is not available, then the full rehearsal should not be considered.
  • The right terrain is much easier to obtain in a defensive rehearsal. Units can actually utilize the exact terrain they will fight on. The defensive rehearsal usually is executed by having designated vehicles maneuver through the unit’s engagement area. During this, the unit will rehearse their actions.
  • The right terrain is more of a problem in an offensive rehearsal. In almost all cases, you will not be able to rehearse on the ground and objectives you will later attack. Consequently, you must seek terrain that is similar. This is a challenge, but the more similar, the more realistic.
  • Security for the unit is a prime consideration during a full rehearsal. During the execution of the rehearsal, the unit can be highly vulnerable to enemy attack – particularly indirect fire or fixed/rotary air.

Key Leader Rehearsal.

The key leader rehearsal is similar in structure to that of the full rehearsal. The key difference is that (as the name implies) only the key leaders of the unit (and those the commander designates) take place in the rehearsal. Thus, the preponderance of personnel in the unit are not involved. To illustrate, let’s use a tank battalion. Instead of every vehicle and Soldier taking part in the rehearsal; only the leader’s vehicles will take place in the rehearsal. Consequently, a tank platoon would only send the platoon leader and his tank instead of all four tanks in the platoon.

A key leader rehearsal resembles a full rehearsal in many ways. First, the terrain utilized in a key leader rehearsal would be basically the same as the full rehearsal. Second, the focus in each is normally the same. They both key on the same events or decisions. Again, the big difference is in the amount of personnel involved.

A Commander should consider the following when contemplating a key leader rehearsal:

  • If time does not permit a full rehearsal, but you want many of its’ benefits, then the key leader rehearsal is the best technique. Because of the reduction in personnel and vehicles; the key leader rehearsal consumes less time than the full rehearsal.
  • In rare instances, when time is clearly not a factor, a unit will conduct a key leader rehearsal; then a full rehearsal.
  • Even though a key leader rehearsal requires less time than the full rehearsal, it still is a significant time consumer. Thus, you must be sure the time is being spent wisely.
  • A key leader rehearsal obviously has major security concerns. Clearly, an area containing the preponderance of the unit’s key leaders must have appropriate security.
  • In terms of Operational Security (OPSEC), a key leader rehearsal can provide a large signature for your enemy. This must be considered.

Terrain Model Rehearsal.

The terrain model rehearsal is the most popular type of rehearsal. It requires less time and overall resources to execute than the previous two techniques. However, a unit can reap huge benefits if it is properly planned, prepared, and executed.

In the terrain model rehearsal it’s all about visualization. The terrain model should be an asset in enabling the unit to gain this visualization. This terrain model can be very elaborate or can be very simple. An elaborate terrain model will not be very effective if it is not coupled with a commander and staff that understand how to execute a quality rehearsal. Vice versa, a very simple terrain model paired with a unit which knows how to execute a rehearsal can be a powerful combination.

In terms of grandiose terrain models, we have seen them all. In fact, many of them probably required building permits. For these models, early preparation is key. In fact, most units should have a dedicated terrain model building team. This group, complete with all the tools of the trade, will begin to build the model early in the planning process. They will receive guidance from leadership as to the terrain model requirements.

The key in building the terrain model is replicating terrain that will assist in executing the rehearsal. In some cases, this may be designing a display which takes a unit through the entire mission. In other cases, it could be just building a model of the objective area. In either case, it is important to make the terrain model to scale. Certainly, there is much art and science to building the model.

In terms of execution of the terrain model rehearsal, you normally make the model large enough so the participants can walk in the model. That way, they can move to various control measures replicated on the model and state their actions. As you can surmise, a terrain model can be a rather large piece of real estate.

Just as a side note, sometimes early preparation of the terrain model can backfire. As you know, it is not uncommon for a unit to change their plan as the situation changes. Thus, a terrain model that might have been perfect for the original plan, may not be so perfect when the plan changes. If that occurs, then the terrain model may have to change. Having had to tear down a few terrain models because of changes, we can say morale is not high when this happens. What can you do?!!

A Commander should consider the following when contemplating a terrain model rehearsal:

  • If at all possible, locate the terrain model near an area that has a vantage point of the area of operations. This aids in visualization.
  • Because of the smaller confines of a terrain model rehearsal, the attendees will almost always be key leaders in the unit.
  • As in the previously discussed rehearsals, security must be paramount. With potentially all the unit’s key leaders in a confined area, an enemy attack of some kind would be devastating.
  • Related to the above is to ensure you have a good parking plan for the vehicles in which the attendees use to get to the rehearsal. Poorly disciplined units will allow attendees to park anywhere. The result resembles a mall parking lot on Black Friday. Units must have a parking plan which considers operational security and overall security.
  • Once the rehearsal is complete, you must make sure you sanitize the area. Lots of good intelligence can be retrieved by your opponents.

Sketch Map Rehearsal.

In theory, a sketch map rehearsal is similar to the terrain model rehearsal. The biggest difference is that instead of the terrain model; a unit uses a sketch map for visualization. This sketch map must be large enough so the attendees can see it and utilize it. Again, the sketch can be the entire area of operations or a blow-up of the objective area.

In terms of execution, participants will generally move stickers on the sketch map to various control measures and state their actions. The key in making the sketch map effective is making the sketch clear and large enough so it can be seen and utilized.

A Commander should consider the following when contemplating a sketch map rehearsal:

  • If a commander wants the benefits of the terrain model rehearsal, but does not have the time to construct a quality model; then the sketch map is the next best alternative.
  • As with the terrain model rehearsal, the optimum location for the sketch map rehearsal is at a vantage point of the area of operations. However, typically the sketch map rehearsal is conducted at higher unit’s command post.
  • There is much flexibility in the sketch map rehearsal in regards to execution time. Since you can move the venue inside (large tents), you can conduct it at night and during poor weather conditions.
  • Security issues for the sketch map rehearsal mirror those of the terrain model rehearsal.

Map Rehearsal.

One of the simplest types of rehearsal is the map rehearsal. All the map rehearsal requires is a map and the unit’s graphic control measures. Because of this, there is very little preparation needed to execute this rehearsal.

A map rehearsal has several positives associated with it. First, it provides an opportunity for the higher commander to see his subordinate commanders face to face. There is no better way to ensure understanding of a plan than personal interaction. Second, as touched on above, a map rehearsal requires few resources to execute. Simply get the map and graphics out and begin the rehearsal. Many of the best rehearsals we have participated in where conducted around the hood of a jeep or HUMVEE.

On the flipside, the map rehearsal may not be as effective as other types of rehearsals for several reasons. First, the products utilized in the rehearsal are simply not as effective as others in achieving the visualization you seek. Second, many times because of time constraints, the map rehearsal is not well-thought out in terms of objectives and expectations. Consequently, it can become a colossal waste of time, when time is at a premium.

A Commander should consider the following when contemplating a map rehearsal:

  • Because the map/overlay is not particularly helpful in sparking visualization, it is wise to conduct the map rehearsal at a vantage point of the area of operations. This is not always feasible, but will pay dividends if achieved.
  • As always, security is a significant issue. Many times, the map rehearsal will be held at a location which could put it at risk for enemy contact. Additionally, vehicles must be dispersed so it does not look like a parking lot. A cluster of vehicles is an invite for a storm of enemy artillery shells.
  • If time is at a premium, but you want the advantages of personal interaction, then the map rehearsal is a viable technique.

Computer Rehearsal.

Ahh, the benefits of technology! If a unit possesses the right stuff, a rehearsal can be conducted via the unit’s computer systems. Of course, with the benefits of technology come the downfalls of technology. As we’ve all been told, you must take the good with the bad.

A computer rehearsal can take the appearance of several of the types of rehearsals we have discussed earlier. It can be similar to a map rehearsal in that the computer screen may only show a map and graphics. It can be comparable to a sketch map rehearsal if technology can blow up important pieces of terrain. It can even be akin to a key leader rehearsal if a simulation is used. It can resemble a radio rehearsal (addressed next) because it can linkup participants from various locations.

A Commander should consider the following when contemplating a computer rehearsal:

  • You cannot put your eggs in one basket when utilizing a computer rehearsal. You must have a back-up plan. As you know, “stuff happens.”
  • Does the enemy possess technology that can affect your execution of this rehearsal?
  • Do not let the fascination with the technology override the objectives of the rehearsal.
  • Depending on the technology, a computer rehearsal can have a non-personal feel to it. Is this acceptable?

Radio Rehearsal.

The radio rehearsal is the least resource intensive of the types available. It is also the least desirable type for a commander. During the radio rehearsal, the unit utilizes the airwaves to verbalize the important pieces of the mission. It is essential all participants have a map, current operational graphics and of course, a working radio.

A Commander should consider the following when contemplating a radio rehearsal:

  • A radio rehearsal can give off a pretty significant signature to the enemy. If the opponent possesses the right equipment it can provide them intelligence and targeting information.
  • A dangerous enemy situation may dictate a radio rehearsal.
  • Some units are better suited to radio rehearsals than others. In particular, field artillery units.
  • Very flexible in terms of when you can execute a radio rehearsal – anytime.
  • Obviously, this type is not beneficial in achieving visualization.


The planning of a rehearsal is critical. An effective rehearsal, which aids in mission accomplishment, is not something that is just thrown together. There are many decisions to be made and they must be timely ones. Let’s review some of the key areas that must be addressed in rehearsal planning.

When? You must decide when you will conduct the rehearsal. This will be determined and finalized during steps of the military decision-making process. It’s all about time available. The more time you have available before the mission takes place; the more time available for a quality rehearsal.

Goals of the Rehearsal. The commander must determine what he wants to achieve out of a rehearsal. Do not conduct a rehearsal just to check the block. Take some time and decide what you want to achieve from the rehearsal. These goals will be a large factor in the next area …

Type of Rehearsal. As we have highlighted numerous times in this article, there are many things that must be considered in selecting the type of rehearsal. However, since this drives so many other things, it must be done early in the planning process.

Events to be Rehearsed. Perhaps, the most important action during planning is to determine the events/phases/tasks that will be rehearsed. Of course, this will vary depending on the mission and tactical situation. Additionally, the type of rehearsal you will conduct will have some bearing on the events to be rehearsed. Below we have provided some typical events that could be rehearsed:


Counter-recon Fight

Passage of Lines

Maneuver to the Objective

Refuel on the Move (If you are maneuvering a long distance)

Breaching Operations

Actions at Danger Areas

Medical Evacuation

Assault of the Objective

Actions on the Objective

Consolidation and Reorganization after


Counter-recon Fight


Passage of Lines of Security/Recon Forces

Closing of Obstacles


Commitment of Counterattack Forces

Commitment of Striking Forces

Engagement Area Fight (Direct and Indirect Fire Plans)

Resupply (and other logistical activities)

Transition to the Offense

Decision Points. Another way to execute a rehearsal is to rehearse the commander’s decision points. As we have addressed in prior articles, a commander will likely have three to four key decisions he will make during the course of a particular mission. Thus, one way of structuring the rehearsal is to rehearse these decision points. The script for executing this should be the unit’s Decision Support Template. (We will discuss this important product in a future article).

Phases. One other way to structure the rehearsal is to break it in phases. For example: movement out of assembly area to a certain phase line, maneuver from that phase line through the breaching of an obstacle, after the breaching to maneuver to the objective, actions on the objective, finally consolidation and organization actions. For each phase, you would determine how much time you want to spend in rehearsal.

Enemy Course of Action (COA) to be portrayed. One of the key things that must be decided prior to executing the rehearsal is the enemy course of action (s) you will rehearse against. Normally, you will rehearse against the enemy course of action (s) you crafted your plan on. A rehearsal will quickly turn into one big ‘what if’ session if you rehearse against an enemy course of action you have not addressed in your planning. This benefits no one!

Time plan. (As addressed in the phases section) Once he has decided on your execution criteria (events to be rehearsed, enemy COA, etc…); you should make a tentative time plan for the rehearsal. For instance, you may want to spend 15 minutes on one action, 15 minutes on another action, and 20 minutes on another action. Remember, this is tentative planning. You will adjust during the time prior to the execution of the rehearsal.

Location of Rehearsal. The type of rehearsal will have a huge impact on the location of the rehearsal. As in all tactical matters, have a back-up location thought out. In planning a location there are several considerations. First, is should be conducive to executing the type of rehearsal you want to conduct. Second, if it is centrally located it assists in some units not having to drive long distances to attend. Third, the terrain should assist in providing security from enemy attacks (direct and indirect). Fourth, the terrain should assist in providing operational security. Fifth, it should facilitate parking the vehicles of the participants.

Participants. In many units, the participants for rehearsals are directed by the unit’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). Consequently, if it has been decided to conduct a terrain model rehearsal, then those designated in the SOP will attend. Generally, the only changes to this are when units not organically part of the organization are with the unit for that mission. If this is the case, the leaders of these units must be notified if their attendance is required at the rehearsal. Vice versa, if a normal participant for a rehearsal is not required to attend a particular rehearsal – let them know. Do not waste their valuable time.

What materials are needed. The type of rehearsal will dictate the types of materials needed to execute the rehearsal. As addressed earlier, some types of rehearsals will require significant amounts of materials, while others need little to execute the rehearsal.

Security Plan – As addressed earlier, security must be thoroughly planned during the rehearsal. Since all of the types of the rehearsals are so leader intensive, any enemy attack can be devastating to a unit. The security plan must address all the various actions that the enemy can conduct against you while you are executing a rehearsal. This could a mounted attack, dismounted attack, airstrike, artillery strike, etc… Remember each type of rehearsal has its’ own unique security requirements.

Alternate COAs – As we have highlighted many times in this series, the friendly and enemy situation and the terrain and weather are continually changing. Because of this, the rehearsal you anticipated to execute a few hours ago may not be feasible or useful now. Thus, a unit must have alternate courses of action planned in regards to the rehearsal.

Disseminate the Details. Once the above have been decided, you must ensure the right people get the right information at the right time regarding the rehearsal. This dissemination is an important part of planning and cannot be neglected.


Prepping for a rehearsal can be very minimal or can be a huge ordeal. Perhaps, many of you have experience in building terrain models for rehearsals. We have seen and build some terrain models that would make the world’s most famous architects envious. These terrain models took hours to construct and employed many personnel. We are not sure if they were worth the resources, but they made great conversation pieces! Besides the above, there are many other actions that can take place during rehearsal prep. These include:

Preparing the Rehearsal Site. This can be a significant ordeal or relatively painless based on the type of rehearsal and the unit. As we mentioned earlier, a terrain model rehearsal can be a tremendous amount of work. Preparation must start early!

Inspect the Rehearsal Site. As in all endeavors, leaders should conduct timely inspections to ensure the site is being constructed to the commander’s specifications. This should be done early in the construction of the site. You cannot wait until the last minute to tell the construction team that the model is not correct. Many of these models take hours to build.

Write the Script. One of the key actions during rehearsal prep is to craft the script for executing the rehearsal. Depending on the size of the unit, this will be done by the commander, his executive officer, or his operations officer. As the name implies, the script provides the blueprint on the execution of the rehearsal. It provides the sequence of events and the role of the participants in these events. In our next article, we will show you what a script should include.

Rehearse the Rehearsal. Prior to the rehearsal, it is an excellent technique for key staff members to rehearse their portions of the rehearsal. In particular, the person orchestrating the rehearsal should go over their script. Time is a factor here. If the time is available use it!

Check the List. It is a good idea to develop a checklist on actions that must be completed before the execution of the rehearsal. A key staff member should review the list during prep and monitor their completion.

Participants are Prepared. No matter what type of rehearsal is conducted, every participant should be prepared to be an active contributor. This preparation should entail several things. This includes: 1) knowing and understanding not only their plan, but their higher headquarters’ plan. 2) Bringing the right stuff to the rehearsal. This means a map and graphics, binos if needed, and anything else required. Preparation also means arriving early so you can look over the rehearsal site.

Emplacing Security. As we have stressed throughout this article, security is critical during the execution of a rehearsal. The security requirements will vary depending on the type of rehearsal. The key in all security is emplacing it before the execution of the rehearsal. This security could include actions such as emplacing observation and surveillance posts, emplacing dismounted infantry or armor, conducting patrols, and designating reaction teams.

Preparing Parking Areas. One of the added complexities of conducting a rehearsal is finding places for participants to park their vehicles. This cannot be a lightly thought-out endeavor. A cluster of vehicles, with many of them equipped with a bunch of antennas is a highly lucrative target for an enemy. Parking areas must be planned and prepared prior to the vehicles arriving.

Execution Products Complete and Updated. There are several products that are instrumental in the execution of a rehearsal. Most critical is the Decision Support Template. These products must be available and updated.

A quality rehearsal just does not happen. It takes good planning and preparation to set the conditions for execution. In this article, we began by addressing the definition of a rehearsal, the purpose of a rehearsal, and the goals of a rehearsal. We next focused in describing the types of rehearsals available to a commander. We concluded the article by highlighting the planning considerations and preparation actions that should be conducted to set the stage for a successful rehearsal. There is much flexibility in conducting a rehearsal. The key is determining what your rehearsal objectives are and selecting the type of rehearsal that best meets these.
We will conclude our discussion of rehearsals next month by focusing on the execution phase. We will key on three areas. First, we will lay-out things you must consider during the execution of a rehearsal. Second, we will provide you a template of a rehearsal script. This script drives the execution of a rehearsal. Finally, we will provide you a group of keys to success as they relate to the overall planning, preparation, and execution of a rehearsal.






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