“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”- General George S. Patton.
Every general would tell you that planning is necessary, but our perfectly laid plans never end up working the way we think in real life situations with a nearly infinite amount of variables. As an Army officer, I found Patton’s quote to be very true. Unless you have all the time in the world, you are not going to be able to create the perfect plan to cover every possible contingency. But you can certainly prepare for the greatest threats. In operational terms, we call these the “most dangerous” enemy course of action (COA) and the “most likely” enemy course of action. The threat is what drives the basis of your overall plan.
To give an example of how these enemy courses of action would differ, consider a martial law situation. For the average citizen, the most likely enemy course of action by the government would be setting up checkpoints, restricting travel, and enforcing a curfew. As an aside, I was the airfield “pusher” (or the officer that pushes forces and resources from the main base to the objective) for a martial law scenario where we rehearsed locking down San Antonio on three separate occasions with a few hundred soldiers and associated equipment and supplies. So these contingency plans are already in place by the government in case of a break down in social order. And I should know, because before I was awakened to the reality of things, for a time I was an integral part of the very thing I am now preparing against. In a martial law situation, the most dangerous enemy course of action would be aggressive raids into private homes, confiscation of stockpiles, weapons, and internment of anyone considered “dangerous” or “too patriotic” by the government. It is important to consider both threats. You plan mostly for the likely COA, but you have to be prepared for the most dangerous COA to a degree. Now there might be some debate as to whether these COAs might be reversed, but that is for you to decide and requires that you stay informed and watch carefully how events unfold.
There are many types of rehearsals ranging from walking through a process on paper to actually executing your plan as close to real life as possible. Your overall plan about whether to bug-in or bug-out should be simple enough for the children in your household to understand. Ask your children questions about what we would do if the power went out, if water was not available, what to do if a stranger knocks on your front door, or what to do if a severe storm hits your area. Ideally, you have the time to do the best rehearsals possible and make them as realistic as you can. Some of the tactical types of rehearsals are limited in use, considering that you are likely in your home and are not sitting in on a tank, monitoring the radio, waiting to roll out on a mission. But I will mention all types, because in some limited circumstances, they might apply. The rehearsal types below are in order of preferable to least effective:
Full Rehearsal– Tactically speaking, you would mount your vehicles and physically maneuver through the operation as if it were actually happening, talking through it on the radio as you go. In rehearsing a bug-out situation, this would involve grabbing your bug-out bags and any other equipment you would need, jumping in the car, and driving your designated route to your predetermined bug-out location. There you would secure the area and set up your camp. It would be beneficial to stay a while and cook a meal and even sleep there for the night, using the bug-out scenario as a kind of camping trip.
Key Leader Rehearsal– In a tactical rehearsal for a company-sized operation, the company commander, first sergeant, executive officer, platoon leaders, and platoon sergeants would all get together and rehearse the mission. The key leaders in turn must have smaller rehearsals with their respective units. The key leaders also rehearse contingencies. 1st platoon is destroyed, and now 2nd platoon must become the main maneuver force. This ensures that all key leaders understand the entire concept of the operation rather than just their part of it. This type of rehearsal is usually done in conjunction with a terrain model rehearsal described below. In a prep situation, this might be a rehearsal with you and your spouse or with the adults in your prepper group. If you are fortunate enough to have connected with like-minded adults, it is important that you rehearse the division of labor that would take place if you were all in the same compound. You do not want to wait until everyone arrives during an emergency to decide who is going to keep the generator functioning or who is responsible for providing medical care. It is important to rehearse what might happen if you have to operate in a “degraded mode.” Part of your group might not make it to the bug-out site or worse face internment. If your medical specialist does not make it, someone else must be able to provide medical care. In the Army, we accomplished this by having Combat Medics but also having Combat Lifesaver certified soldiers on each vehicle in case we were separated from the medics. No one should be indispensable, because odds are you will need that person exactly when you cannot have them help you. Cross-training on tasks is how you avoid having a gap in your skills sets as a group.
Terrain Model/Sandbox Rehearsal– This type of rehearsal is one of my personal favorites when limited time is a factor. In a time crunch, you could use your child’s sandbox for this or just use different items for terrain features in a cleared area. The terrain model does not have to be to scale but it should show all of the key terrain features and be recognizable. Conversely though, I have seen a group of four soldiers spend half a day preparing an excellent terrain model including grid lines from the map. The better your model is, the better your rehearsal will go. The key leaders or all soldiers in a smaller unit would take up their positions on this terrain model and then move like their vehicles would on the field. You would be surprised how you actually remember better when you have to physically walk through the operation, and you notice where other adjacent units are, so you can orient yourself. Mostly, this type of rehearsal would be used to show your bug-out route from your home and show how you would set up security in your location once you arrived. Even rehearsing a bug-in scenario, you could make a model of your home and talk through how to protect it from roving gangs of looters, refugees, or a raid.
Map Rehearsal– When time is of the essence, and you need to execute a hasty plan very soon after you formulate it, this type of rehearsal works well. You lay out a map or make a sketch of one and walk through the concept of the plan. This works as a suitable substitute to a terrain model rehearsal, provided that everyone can read a map. A forest fire or even routine road construction might cause road closures and the need may arise for you to use your alternate route to your safe haven, and this type of rehearsal helps easily illustrate that contingency. A bug-out location should have optimally two entry-egress routes. You do not want to become trapped in your bug-out location or have only one way to travel there. This type of rehearsal works well for contingency plans. You might only have time to do a full rehearsal on your main travel route and do a map rehearsal of the alternate route later.
Computer Rehearsal– It would be difficult to rehearse a bug-out or bug-in scenario with a computer, but computers allow us to rehearse skills that are expensive to rehearse in real life. The Army utilizes expansive training centers with high-tech simulators, because even though it is expensive to operate simulators, it is much less expensive than running real vehicles through a field exercise. A single tank platoon with four tanks can totally drain one fuel truck not to mention the cost of vehicle maintenance with turbine engines running around a quarter of a million dollars when brand new. Call of Duty does not a warrior make, but hunting and tactical games can illustrate the importance of cover and concealment, shooting techniques, and tactical movement without having to pay the price for your mistakes in the real world. Practicing with high caliber rifle ammunition is practically like shooting dollar bills out of your barrel. Save the live fires for when your shooters are more proficient on marksmanship basics and will benefit more from the training. Check out magazines like Armchair General for reviews on lifelike games that could be used for tactical training and developing strategic thinking.
Radio Rehearsal– This is the worst type of rehearsal and should only be used if you have no time for anything else. In fact, I have used this type of rehearsal just to say that we had “checked the block” if I ran out of time for a real rehearsal. This particular rehearsal requires an emcee to walk through a scenario, and then the individuals respond over the radio describing their actions and reporting as if they were engaging the enemy. It is useful for working out sequences and triggers for events, but there is zero visual component or physical component as with a terrain model rehearsal. You might use this rehearsal to work out a phone tree or establish redundant contacts within your prepper group, but that is the only practical use it would provide.
Keys to Productive Rehearsals– With all training, you want to make it as realistic as possible. Rehearsals are the same way. Go through all the details in a full rehearsal and pretend like it is the real thing. If you take the rehearsal seriously, so will other people in your family and prepper group. If you are going to bug-out, make sure everyone knows what they are grabbing if you have to leave the house in under five minutes. Make sure everyone has a role to fulfill that fits into your larger plan. If your son is supposed to grab the mobile stove and does not know where to find it, it is better to find that out now in a rehearsal instead of in real life. If he is responsible for setting up the stove once you arrive to the bug-out site, make him do it. Have him set it up in a safe location, start the fire (if he’s old enough), and then cook something on it. Maybe he uses too few briquettes the first time, so he has to add more the next time around. Everyone should be very familiar with the equipment they will be using. An emergency is not the time to figure out how a stove works or if you are missing some part that you need. Break out some of your survival food for realism, and so that everyone can get used to eating it. I can tell you from experience, if you are used to eating only fresh foods and then have to immediately switch to a steady diet of Meals-Ready-to-Eat, you are going to have a very rough transition. There is a reason why half of the Army walks around with Tabasco in their pockets while in the field.
Differing weather conditions can affect your speed and processes as well. Do a rehearsal during the pleasant spring months, but also do one in the middle of a cold winter. If you are bugging-out, it might take much longer to get to your site due to seasonal weather conditions. You might even get stranded on the way there. Hopefully, your bug-out location is closer than that. Inevitably, it will be the worst weather conceivable when you have to bug-out. In the Boy Scouts, we were frequently rained on during our camp outs. It was very valuable in showing us how you need to bag everything to keep it dry and set up measures to keep mud out of your tents. Do not cancel your rehearsal due to weather. An emergency will not give you a rain check.
Remember that the point of a rehearsal is to make sure that everyone understands the plan and their part of it and to practice your plan. It also serves to find any weaknesses in the overall plan, which can be remedied before you have to do this in real life. For those with children, if they have never been camping or are not what you would call outdoorsy, it could be a huge shock in a bug-out situation if they have to both adjust to the crisis situation and have to learn very quickly how to function in the wild. Do not let them take their iPods, iPads, Smart Phones, and the rest of their gadgets with them in this scenario, since they are unlikely to work anyhow during the real emergency. At most you might consider a handheld video game if you have a solar charger with extra batteries. It might improve their morale during a bug-out scenario, but it also might serve as a terrible distraction. It really depends on the child and whether they are playing a game for entertainment or as a vehicle for escapism. Escapism is extremely dangerous during a survival scenario. You want everyone to be focused on the task at hand but also have opportunities for fun interpersonal activities with family and group members such as card games.
You may never want to touch your equipment or reserves until the real emergency, and even though it costs more money to have extras to rehearse with, it is crucial. Not only does this allow you to practice with the equipment you will be using, it allows you to find any broken parts that you need to fix or to find substitutes that would work in a pinch. You might have a suture kit in an aid bag, but you need to have that practice kit too, so that you can become good at it before you need to do it for real on an actual wound.
When a main battle tank is damaged, it is functioning in “degraded mode.” The main gun might be disabled, the thermal sights blown to pieces, the radio is inoperative, or track thrown and unable to maneuver. You learn to deal with each of these contingencies alone and together. Do a mini-rehearsal at home sometime. Try turning the power off for a few hours. Turn off the main water supply and try to flush toilets on your tri-level home by lugging buckets of water up the stairs. Maybe you will decide that everyone must use the one toilet closest to your water stores. Operating in degraded mode will help you focus on certain aspects and work out the bugs in your plan without having to turn your home into a war zone. In this way, you could have mini-rehearsals for a few hours without entirely disrupting regular routines. Though an emergency is likely to do just that, so this method just provides another way to fit in some extra practice.
As mentioned previously, the plan has to be simple enough that the slowest soldier or youngest child can grasp it. Backbriefing is incredibly important. If your children can walk you through the plan, then you know that they understand all of it and not just their small part of it. Adults and children alike are hesitant to ask questions, because they think it will make them look stupid in front of a group. I have had soldiers nod their heads at me when briefing them to only give me a blank stare ten minutes later when I asked them to walk me through the plan. Everyone has to get it no matter how many times you must walk through it. That gains you peace in knowing that you communicated effectively and were understood, and confidence that the plan does not depend on your personal orchestration of it because others will know what to do.
It would be appropriate to end this article with a paraphrase from another great general, Helmut von Moltke: “The plan never survives first contact with the enemy.” Your plan and the rehearsals of that plan serve as a rallying point. The plan is meant to focus everyone on the main objective even when everything is falling apart around you. It is almost guaranteed, that things will not play out exactly as you predict, but when you have to overcome those obstacles you will always end up coming back to the main focus of your overall plan to survive and protect those you care about.