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From Siege2Surge: Debrief

Dinner is done. Plates are flying, moods are all over the map, and you fear the onset of a siege. Lotsa fun this! You are deep in the scrum of family life. The second wind you begged for in your controlled re-entry (No. 3) mercifully has arrived, putting just enough in the sails for you to execute your fifth Standard Operating Procedure (SOP): the debrief.


“The command needs to make clear that the debriefing is a part of any mission,” a U.S. Army instruction states. “The mission or deployment is not considered complete until the debriefing occurs.”

Veterans will tell you that it didn’t take a manual to enlighten them about the significance of the debrief. They know that the debrief is not about counting beans for some rear echelon bureaucrat in Washington: it’s a matter of life and death. Without it, no commander will ever be able to pinpoint what “should have happened,” “what did happen,” and what caused the difference between the two. Without it, no bigger picture of events will become clear, thereby marring current and future Ops.

Dad, thousands of books have been piously penned in an effort to compel you to execute SOP No. 5 through your hands-on leadership of family prayer. But like a platoon leader on the forward line, you don’t need the Pentagon — or a Catholic Herald columnist, doctorate, or even the pope — to inform you that your family is deployed daily in life-or-death missions, requiring daily debriefs. And you sure as heck don’t need a theology degree to execute the three phases of this SOP.

First, convene the entire family at a set time (e.g., 2000 hours) and place (“prayer corner”). “Debrief,” said one friend in the Marines, “is the unit leadership and several raggedy, tired and filthy Marines” who meet “before they even clean their weapons,” let alone have time for a quick smoke. Likewise, you must gather your raggedy unit while the memory of the day’s operation is fresh. If you are prone to delaying this SOP, know this: “bad news does not get better with age,” as the Marines say; conversely, your unit deserves your positive recognition promptly, when warranted. 

Second, lead your family in a brief examination of conscience — and gratitude. What went well? Where did the Lord show up during the day? And where did we come up short? Sift through the events. Now is when your unit pools Intel; the better the Intel, the better the future Ops. Take St. Ignatius of Loyola at his word: “Give thanks to God our Lord for the benefits received.” Ingratitude, he warned, is “the cause, beginning, and origin of all evils and sins.” By leading your unit into two to three minutes of spoken gratitude, you will diffuse tension, mitigate ingratitude and allow your unit to see the bigger picture of the day’s mission.

While you may not have the chance to say, “Outstanding work, there, Private Schmuckatelli” in recognition of the 36 enemies he prevented from riding their explosive-laden bikes through the middle of the soukh in order to blow up the lines of people that were there trying to vote, you will have other opportunities to give the credit to the one whom it’s due: the Lord. 

Third, start the core of the debrief: your family rosary. In all likelihood 30 years from now, you will look back on the daily rosary as your best investment as a husband and father. When you execute this phase of the SOP, you lead your family into what the catechism calls the “epitome of the whole Gospel.” As you gain traction, delegate mysteries to junior leadership in the unit. Hold on: “Praying the rosary together, as a family,” advises Pope Francis, “is…a source of great strength.”

Only 20 minutes or so have passed, but as you and your wife get up from your kneeler or the couch, you have reason to smile even if it’s a raggedy smile and your unit is still filthy: the mission is now complete; cohesion is up; griping is down; and tomorrow’s Op will be enhanced. However it went, take some comfort (but not too much) in what one U.S. Army manual admits: “The reality is that the ideal debriefing never happens.” 

Be forewarned. The rosary has a calming effect — and you may need to hoist one or two kids off the couch and carry them to their racks. Welcome to one of the many perks of SOP No. 5: after all, you are tapping the source of great strength.

The surge is on.                 

Johnson is associate director of the St. Thomas More Institute.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017