Army units must deal with a wide range of vulnerabilities
in garrison, during field training exercises, and while deployed.
Identifying and mitigating these vulnerabilities are essential
to creating the conditions needed for freedom of maneuver throughout
the battlespace and completing the mission.
Leaders of the 4th Infantry Division Support Command (DISCOM)
at Fort Hood, Texas, knew that failure to alleviate risks and
vulnerabilities could adversely affect our formations. Therefore,
we developed a unique process for mitigating risks during reset
after a deployment, while preparing for an upcoming deployment
to Iraq, and throughout
Vulnerability mitigation must be explained in a way that both
leaders and Soldiers can understand and put into action. Rather
than use a narrative Word document, we used a chart to depict
visually the vulnerabilities, risks, and mitigating actions
associated with an operation or event. This visual depiction
provided a tool for leaders and Soldiers to identify vulnerabilities
quickly and mitigate their risk.
Before deployment, and in the middle of its reset, the DISCOM
transformed to the 4th Sustainment Brigade. The problems
inherent in transformation were compounded by preparation
After we arrived in Iraq, we received subordinate battalions
with which we did not have a habitual garrison or operational
relationship. The separate companies and sections we received
represented the full spectrum of units throughout the Army—Active
Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve units—all
performing their traditional or “in lieu of” missions.
This wide range of units increased our need to assess vulnerabilities
quickly and find ways to mitigate them throughout our formation.
We assessed the vulnerabilities of each operation as we gained
experience and confidence in our mission and ourselves and
spent more time in Iraq. This aided in the mitigation of
risks and reduced vulnerabilities during all phases of our
and operational assessment.
Although we assessed our vulnerabilities for many operations
and missions, I will discuss only the operational assessment
of our relief in place/transfer of authority (RIP/TOA) operation.
Within a 6-week period, the brigade headquarters and two
battalion headquarters, including their companies, went through
process. During each unit’s RIP/TOA, we incorporated
external and environmental vulnerabilities into our risk
Initially, we assessed our risk as “high” across
the brigade. Since all elements of the command were new to
the Iraqi theater of operations and to each other, we closely
monitored our progress throughout the RIP/TOA process.
Because we had to perform our mission immediately after
we arrived, it became the responsibility of leaders at
level to implement mitigating factors that would lessen
the inherent risks of combat operations. We constructed
assessment charts to reflect color-coded levels of risk
and vulnerability, the timeline associated with the vulnerability,
the current risk assessment, previous and projected assessments,
and mitigating actions. (See chart below.)
The first step in our process was to identify
clearly the vulnerabilities associated with a particular phase
We depicted our vulnerabilities on the left side of the
chart by showing increased proficiency and reduced vulnerability
as we assessed an improved risk level. Vulnerabilities
tied into the level of risk our units experienced at a
given time during an operation. Many of our vulnerabilities
associated with a lack of experience and inadequate time
to learn and understand our mission and environment. Along
with assessing our vulnerabilities, we assessed the progress
of units in our area of operations as they advanced through
their RIP/TOA phases and assumed their roles in the battlespace.
Next, we developed a list of mitigating factors associated
with our vulnerabilities and depicted them on the right
side of the chart. This proved valuable in stimulating
The chart served as a quick reference for leaders at all
levels and helped ensure that they were on track in mitigating
vulnerabilities. The factors depicted also gave leaders
the ability to tailor their assessed vulnerabilities for
mission or operation.
Both brigade and battalion headquarters tracked mitigation
progress for the time period depicted along the bottom
portion of the chart. At the brigade level, we usually
each month. Our subordinate units generally traced their
assessments by week. By assessing ourselves, we were able
to update our status quickly and see if our mitigating
factors not only were working but also were implemented
at the company
and platoon levels.
Our actual assessment of the risk level associated with
a particular vulnerability was part art and part science.
we determined all factors that were involved in the operation,
including the mitigating factors that were in effect and
how the length of time the assessed unit had been in country
related to its mission proficiency. Then, after carefully
determining how well our mitigation was working, we determined
our risk level.
We denoted the current overall assessment with a bubble
in the appropriate section on the chart. A solid line showed
where we had been, and a dotted line showed our predicted
assessment of future risk. We plotted our predicted assessment
based on what we felt to be the trend of risk. We kept
mind the proper placement and execution of mitigating factors,
including units operating in our area of operations and
their effect on our mission.
On our chart, gradation of color showed changes (both good
and bad) associated with the risk involved for a particular
mission. For example, red moving to amber denoted that
the risk moved from high to moderate, amber moving to green
moderate risk, and green signified low risk. We split the
chart into three sections to break up the color codes and
signify the risk level. For example, if an assessment was
at the high end of moderate risk, we labeled the risk as
The greatest challenge we faced in mitigating risk was
keeping the bubble in the green, or low-risk, area by implementing
mitigation measures to reduce vulnerability. Throughout
deployment, we constantly evaluated our mitigation criteria
and where we stood in relation to our vulnerabilities.
Constantly reevaluating ourselves prevented us from becoming
once we assessed our risk as green, or low. Another key
advantage of the assessment tool was that it gave us the
see ourselves, the enemy, and our environment in spite
of constantly changing tactics, techniques, and procedures.
Visual Information Sharing
By creating a visual risk assessment tool that painted a picture,
the brigade was able to evaluate risks quickly and determine
ways to mitigate the associated vulnerabilities during each
phase of reset and deployment. Our chart was user friendly,
which made it easier to identify and observe our progress.
We found that leaders at all levels were more likely to refer
to the vulnerability assessment chart rather than to a Word
document. We also found that charting vulnerabilities and
mitigation actions makes it easier to assess a unit’s
risk during an operation or phased event.
Leaders at all levels of our formation found our vulnerability
chart an extremely useful, succinct, and efficient way to share
information about vulnerabilities, risks, and mitigation during
all operations. Rather than use a narrative that simply addresses
risks and gives a rating, units should consider using a chart
similar to the one we developed to tie together all aspects
of the risk assessment process.
Lieutenant Colonel Seth L. Sherwood is the S–3 of the
4th Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, which is deployed
to Tafi, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has
a master’s degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
and is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College.