Lessons I Learned From The Army: Plan, Prepare, Adapt

Lessons I Learned From The Army: Plan, Prepare, Adapt

by Brandon Hunt

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about emergency preparation. Perhaps it’s the time of year. Perhaps it’s what I hear and read that turns my thoughts to prepping. And if the last two years are any indication….

…well, maybe this is the year to prepare, if you haven’t done so already.

My best lessons on preparation I learned from serving in the Army. If there’s any institution that is good at planning and preparing, it's the military.

It wasn’t until after my service time that I came to appreciate the process of planning, preparing and adapting to circumstances, which I applied to school, work, and yes, even family.

However, you don’t have to be a military person to understand the process of planning, prepping, and adapting. The Army helped me to utilize it in a more conscious way. They are skills we have all learned and apply in many aspects of our lives. 

I’ll demonstrate with one simple example: feeding your family. You have to plan a meal, prepare it, and be ready to adapt in case the cooking doesn’t go according to plan. It’s something you do often enough that it feels natural….and maybe a little tedious at times.

You go through the process of planning, preparing and adapting just about everyday, in so many aspects of your life. If you take a moment to examine your days, you’ll see this pattern too. A lot of time we go through it unconsciously or by routine.


The Planning

When my Guard unit was activated for service in Iraq in 2003, and once we arrived in Baghdad, we were attached to the 1st Armored Division. All of our missions came down through them. At that level, I was not involved with actual mission planning.

However, a plan was always in place before we went out on our assigned missions.

I mention this to show that if you want to achieve a goal or project, you need a plan of action.

Jumping into something and hoping for the best works some of the time, or in movies, but not too often in life. Yeah, I understand some areas of life don’t need a lot of planning, and a little spontaneity is fun. 

Still, some things need a plan of execution…like military missions…and emergency preparations.

Since I was not involved with the mission planning, I would wait, along with the rest of the squad, for our sergeant to come back from his briefing.

So, in our squad tent (which also happened to have a floor made of marble slabs we borrowed from one of Sadaam’s palaces) our sergeant would give us the mission briefing. We would go over all of the details, such as: when we would leave, what vehicles would be used, ensuring we had enough food and water, what gear we needed, and the specific duties each fire team would perform. 

Before we went on a mission, or even began preparing for one, we had to understand the mission, the objectives for success.

With emergency preparation you have to do the same thing. You need to create an action plan that details what you need, how much you need, where to store it, the cost, and how long it will take to achieve your preparation goals.

If you jump into emergency preparation haphazardly, you’re likely to set yourself up for failure and unpleasant consequences.


The Preparation

Once we understood mission objectives we began our preparations. We checked all of our gear: weapons, ammo, radios, vehicles, amount of water and food we’d need. We went through the same process before every mission.

Any questions regarding specific duties, we talked it over with our sergeant. Possible failure in one area could result in someone getting hurt or worse. It was vital everyone understood their tasks and we all worked together for a successful mission.

I don’t think I need to run through a step-by-step scene of preparation to illustrate what it is. We all know how to prepare for certain endeavors we undertake. If you’ve been on a vacation, you’ve prepared; if you’re parents, you prepare…all of the time.

Planning and preparing for emergencies is not so different from planning military actions or other endeavors. 


Willing to Adapt


Despite all the planning and prepping you do, events will happen that will change your plan. When that occurs the best response is to adapt to changing circumstances. Use what resources you have to survive a disaster.

There were times in Iraq when my platoon would roll out on missions, only to have the parameters or objectives change at inconvenient times. We were still expected to finish our missions. To achieve that we adapted and continued on. Usually the objectives remained the same.

Obviously the military is big on training. All of the training that we did ingrained in us the necessity of adaptation.

Often large training events were overseen by third party officers and NCOs, who would observe and throw in complications to our “mission objectives,” such as a wounded soldier or another squad unable to fulfill their part of the mission. Despite the complications to the original plan, we would have to adapt and respond in real-time to achieve success. It was all to simulate the stress, chaos, and changing nature of the battlefield.

I’m one of those people who doesn’t accept change easily. Yet, it was the Army that taught me the ability, or rather the mind-set, of adaptability. It is something you can cultivate and apply when a situation calls for it.

A natural or man-made disaster will be just as fluid and chaotic as a battlefield. Unexpected complications will arise. Understand you can’t possibly anticipate every scenario. However, an action plan gives you a base to work from, which you can adapt as needed. Look at your emergency supplies and tools in new ways. Find multiple uses for them.

Things change. It’s just a reality of life. Plan and prepare until you feel like you're as ready as possible, but expect that plans rarely work out. Cultivate a mind and attitude of adaptability.

What you plan for won’t always work out the way you hope. You won’t have absolutely everything you need. Preparing beforehand though, provides the tools and supplies to help you survive the emergency.


Mission Success

Success for most events in our lives is rooted in planning, preparing and adapting.

If we look back to early 2020, we can see that a lack of planning and preparation led to panic buying and empty shelves.. 

I’m not saying you have to go full blown “prepper,” but having a couple of months worth of supplies is not a bad idea.

I think now, most people understand the necessity, the plain common sense of planning and preparing for the next crises.

We’re only a couple of weeks into the new year. Yet, the problems of last year are still with us, and will be for a good while.

I can’t predict the future. Though, I try to pay attention to what has happened and what is happening, and then I try to plan and prepare for what may come. And if you do the same, at least you will have taken action for yourself and loved ones.

The best we can do is plan and prepare for emergencies beyond our control. And when they do occur, find ways to adapt, use your supplies efficiently, and you’ll get through the crises.

In a nutshell, the Army taught me a myriad of lessons, especially how to plan, prepare and adapt. So, I hope this will be a little mantra that will help you in your preparations.

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