Philosopher George Santayana once stated, “…When experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
Taking professional training classes, or even just going to the range to perform drills, provides an opportunity to learn and evolve. A great way to ensure that lessons, events, and other data are retained is to take notes and write detailed After Action Reports (AARs). Getting professional training is not a small endeavor. It is an investment, and for some, a very costly one. Tuition cost for a two-day basic class can cost up to $500 plus costs for ammunition, food, lodging, and transportation. That is a considerable investment for most, and a shocking price to new shooters who need the training most. Ensuring that those expensive lessons are retained makes those costs more justifiable.
AARs not only provide a reminder to the writer, but also build upon simple notes, help fellow students retain their knowledge, help prospective students know what to expect from a class, and how to better prepare for it. Instructors also benefit from AAR through accounts of what students are actually learning, where they struggle, and where they are not challenged enough. They also can provide positive or negative feedback on how an instructor’s demeanor and teaching style affects the class.
So what should be included in an AAR? Below, I have included a sample template that I use for AARs. It is simply a good starting place, and can be modified in any number of ways to suit the writer, audience, and class. Basically, the more detailed an AAR, the more accurate story it tells. It is a good idea to start with information on class preparation. What were the expected weather conditions? What clothes did you wear? What support gear like slings, holsters, magazines, protective equipment, details on the guns you brought, and what snacks you brought help provide needed details. For instance, if you encountered a holster failure where a part broke, but did not mention what make and model holster you were using, there is little to be learned. Equally important as a list of gear you brought is a list of gear that you did not bring, but should have. Did you get sunburn because you forgot sunscreen? Did mosquitos feast on students all day long because you wore short sleeves and did not pack bug spray? Did you leave rain gear at home, expecting impossibly blue skies and fluffy white clouds, but end up facing an early morning soaking rain that left you wet and miserable throughout the rest of the day? Small details make big differences in AARs, and no lesson is so small that it should be forgotten.
Good instructors encourage note taking, and those notes help feed a detailed AAR. Notes on drills, ammunition used, malfunctions encountered, gear failure, “light bulb” moments, and so on can easily be forgotten without good notes. Even if you just go to the range to practice, recording details for future use is worth the effort. Also important s recording what you were thinking throughout the class. Were mental mistakes made? Were there adjustments that the instructor asked you to make which had a positive impact? Did another student bring up a new perspective that helped? Including your thoughts and thought process, humorous moments, humbling lessons, and so on, all help make a well-rounded and relatable AAR.
To go a bit further on notes and how they help feed an AAR, take a notebook up with you to the firing line and take notes about what the instructor and other students say. Ask anyone for clarification or more detailed information on how or why certain things may work better. During breaks for meals, and especially overnight between training days, take some time to go over your notes to keep the lessons fresh in your head.
After you get home from training, take some time to decompress. Clean and sort your gear to get it ready to use again or to put in storage. Spend some extra time with your family who sacrificed a weekend or more of their time with you so that you could train to be a better provider or protector. After a couple days, come back to you notes and read over them a few times, expounding on various points. Call up fellow students or the instructor to discuss things that you may not remember or want to get some different perspectives on. Then take some time to flesh out those notes into a story that keeps your training alive on paper, and at the same time helps both fellow and prospective students learn from your experiences. I cannot stress the last sentence enough. Training without retention is meaningless and wasteful in the long term. Training without passing along knowledge is selfish. Learning is generational, building off the experiences of the past. It is important to be a part of that passing of knowledge so that others do not to repeat every step and misstep you made.
Now that you have written your class AAR, send it to other students you attended the class with, as well as the instructor. If they have any feedback, determine if their perspective deserves mention. At the same time, ensure that your AAR tells your story, not theirs. Once you are happy with it, make it available to a wider audience. If you are a member of firearms related websites or social media, post it for others to see. Even posting on your open social media page could help other people better understand what goes in to being a responsible citizen who invests time and effort into being an asset to society.
In the end, writing AARs ensures that you did not waste your training time and money on learning skills and lessons that you will forget. Keeping a record of details like your gear choices, preparation, drills, mistakes, and thought process throughout it all ensures that you will retain what you learned. It also helps prospective students determine what classes are right for them, how they should prepare, and also how they should record their experiences for others. Last, it will help your fellow students and instructors learn from your lessons and perspective, enhancing their experiences as well. Writing and publishing AARS is the greatest tool for not only retaining what you learned, but build a foundation for future learning.
Class Title: Provide the company name and the title of the class you are attending.
Instructor: List the primary and any assistant instructors.
Location/Date: Provide the venue the class is using, what state, and town, as well as the date.
Equipment Details: This is a chance to go into great detail on what guns you are bringing, and modifications done to them to include barrels, sights, triggers, lights, etc. List out what gear like magazine pouches, footwear, eye and ear protection, rain gear, number of magazines you brought and so on. Write down what you brought to eat and drink, plus other sundry items. Little details can help in big ways. Going back to certain gear items throughout the narrative of your AAR can help put context into what worked and did not work for you.
Personal Experience: Tell the reader who you are, and what perspective you brought to the class. Are you a soldier, a cop, an armed citizen? Have you attended training before, and if so, what? Do you have any other applicable experience?
Preparation Drills: Did you train up for your class? Did you practice any particular drills to bring your basic skills up to speed before the class?
Class Demographics: Who else is attending the class? Ensure your fellow students are okay with their names being mentioned before doing so, or whether they would prefer you not mention them in any way. Is the class full of beginners, professional shooters, or a mix of all experience levels?
Training Day 1 TD1) Morning: This is the time to write about the morning activities. How was the class set up? Was the venue easy to find? Was there certain safety information that was briefed? What drills did you start off with, and how did your preparation help?
TD1 Afternoon: Same as above, but with the afternoon’s activities, as well as how any lunch break was handled. Was food brought in? Were students expected to bring their own? Did the instructor head to the nearest restaurant?
Overnight: Write about what happened over night. Was there a class dinner? Was there a recommended hotel? Were the accommodations at your hotel satisfactory? Did you perform any maintenance on your gear or guns? In the morning, was there a place to eat breakfast?
TD2 Morning: Same as TD1.
TD2 Afternoon: Same as TD1.
Class Debrief: At the end of the actual training, most classes have a time set aside for students and instructors to talk about what they leaned, what they liked, and what challenges they faced. Providing highlights from your lessons as well as other students’ lessons can be very helpful.
After Class: What happened after everyone left the range? Was there another class dinner, or did everyone head home? What did you do once you got home? What was your procedure to get your gear and guns back into serviceable condition?