About 20 years ago, I was sent to participate in an anti-terrorism exercise at the Disney Resort complex. The idea was that they used off duty personnel to respond to a simulated terrorist attack at one of the Disney resorts. Some of the people were there as responders, and some were chosen to be the terrorists. They had government employees who had been voluntold to be resort guests and serve as victims.

I was chosen to staff the one ambulance that they had for “real world” injuries, in the event that someone really got hurt, so they wouldn’t have to stop the exercise. It was great, because I got to stand around and learn, without having to worry about doing anything.

It started with a mass shooting. The initial response went well. Initial officers arrived, then SWAT, and SWAT began clearing the area. No shooter had yet been found. Then the command team got there and began coordinating everything. All was going smoothly, and according to procedure.

An hour into it, the exercise had to be stopped and then restarted because the OPFOR had figured out where the command post was likely to be (the parking lot where there were few cars) and placed a command detonated IED there. It wiped out most of the command post. The two guys who had command detonated the device (a car bomb) then strolled through the command post and shot every single person who was left.

The incident commander complained that it was unrealistic for terrorists to know where his CP was going to be, so they started over.

That entire thing reminded me of the tabletop exercise that the Japanese had carried out in May of 1942, where the Japanese Navy was wargaming out the Midway attacks. Admiral Yamamoto hosted the exercise and invited all of the senior commanders involved in the Midway operation to participate.

His chief of staff ran the game and served as the chief umpire. The purpose of the exercise was to fight out the battle on paper first and expose any flaws in the Japanese plan so they could be corrected before launching the actual operation. The game was treated as a formality, and not a serious tool.

The player controlling the U.S. forces sent a flight of land-based bombers from Midway to attack the carriers. The game umpire rolled a pair of dice to determine how many hits were scored. The result of nine was enough to sink two carriers, Akagi and Kaga. The chief umpire did not believe the Americans would be so aggressive. Even if they were, he was confident the Japanese carriers would be up to the task of defending themselves, so he overruled the umpire and reduced the result to just three hits, meaning that Akagi was still afloat.

Every operation carried out by the Japanese Navy from the invasion of Midway and the Aleutians, down to the assault on Johnston and Hawaii, was carried out in the games without the slightest difficulty. The Imperial Navy handily won every engagement in these tabletop games. This was due to the conduct of Yamamoto’s Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Ugaki, who was the chief umpire and who frequently intervened to set aside rulings made by the umpires.

How can we apply those lessons to the current day? I leave that to your own imaginations.

Categories: Government


Univ of Saigon 68 · April 23, 2024 at 7:59 am

Dick Best: the guy who sank the Akagi (Red Castle)


nick flandrey · April 23, 2024 at 8:55 am

IMHO, any exercise that doesn’t start with half the leadership dismissed isn’t worth doing. It’s REALLY unlikely in any disaster scenario that all of the leadership and top level positions will be filled by their normal occupants.

“You, you, you, and you– you’re not here. You stayed home with your family. You were at a conference. You died. You couldn’t get here because your route was blocked.”

I get it that for practical reasons you need those guys to participate in the exercise, and that useful stuff can still be learned, but at least START that way. After they all freak out, make the point that their people better be able to step up, and the plan better allow for that, and continue with a mix of “DOA” leaders and people called on to ‘step up.’

I’ve been a ‘role player’ for our PD special units. I’ve done the CERT training final exercise as a trainee and as a role player victim. There are ALWAYS lessons to be learned from any exercise, no matter how bad, even if the only thing you learn is that your leadership is completely delusional.

I’ve read as many AARs, investigative reports, and hot washes of exercises and real world events that I can get my hands on. NO ONE trains without their leadership. And they really should, because in the real world, that leadership is usually unavailable, or completely useless.


    Divemedic · April 23, 2024 at 10:00 am

    The exercise above was the reason why I pressed the FD that I worked for to stop parking responding vehicles in the same place every time we got a bomb threat. It made us predictable, and predictability is the key to defeat.

Gerry · April 23, 2024 at 10:49 am

+1 on Nick

Only went to one exercise were the Chief of the Fire Department killed off the whole HAZMAT team for following everybody down the same road to the incident . He took himself out in the same attack and watched the chaos as command went to hell. He said it was better to work this out now then than in a real attack.

Compared to the FBI/DHS scenarios were ever one was declared a win even when they were going to hell in a handbasket. I found most of these things designed to make the leadership feel good about themselves and not an honest evaluation of capabilities,

Anonymous · April 23, 2024 at 12:49 pm

Wars are not to acquire land, minerals, harbors, and slaves to make the attacking country wealthy. Wars are actually to disrupt, impoverish, and kill off the middle class so it no longer has the means to compete with the war-making nobility. The purpose of war simulations is to create lies to function as set dressing props to make the propaganda look more real.

Hurry up, you need to get cynical faster than the Bad People can implement evil.

IcyReaper · April 23, 2024 at 12:55 pm

Sounds a lot like the military wargames I attended in my career. In real life the OPFOR usually won because the good guys always did the same thing the same way every time. But after a couple losses they had to play nice and lose every time.

Just look at how these, pick your govt agency, SWAT teams enter a building when you see them on TV news busting an 80 year old in a walker evil MAGA scum, either too tight or too loose a stack with no one watching their six. No over watch in case the target is serious and knows his shit. No attention to if the building has any surveillance cameras, etc..

    nick flandrey · April 23, 2024 at 2:02 pm

    If things go kinetic, you can bet that someone will learn to exploit the current tactics. Just watching them stack on both sides of the primary door should give one ideas about where to put the ied… heck, a bucket of gasoline or even just ammonia above the door with a way to dump it would change that tactic pretty darn fast…

    Way back in the day I had a girlfriend teaching in LA Unified school district. They had a very rigid plan. In the event of a bomb threat, evacuate the students to distant areas like parking lots and ball fields. If they had a sniper threat, lock down the school. Just knowing that was enough to maximize casualties if an attacker was so inclined.

    So far it’s been street theater and amateurs under the control of bigger organizations. We’ll know the real rioting is starting when they start setting cops on fire and attacking the mounted patrol’s horses. Or assassinating targets at home or work.

    To my knowledge, no one is wargaming the sort of thing someone set on real destruction might do, because just wargaming a single shooter at a mall overwhelms them.


War as Art · April 23, 2024 at 2:06 pm

I’ll bust a von Schlieffen plan and attack from the woods.
I kid, there was no von Schlieffen plan.
Could you imagine Rommel on the Eastern Front!
He never got a full round of supplies thanks to Malta and the Fallschirmjager (Paratroops) should have captured it and not Crete.
The you have the watches but we have the time actually started in The Nam and some are just doomed to never learn from history.

Rick T · April 23, 2024 at 3:49 pm

I wonder what the life expectancy of Black Block ‘medics’ and other players in the backfield will be if the range goes both ways? You know, the guy or girl in rear talking into space or staring at a tablet and surrounded by big guys looking outwards??

fanboy · April 23, 2024 at 6:56 pm

There was a .mil exercise years ago where the USMC general running OPFOR cut all RF comms and used motorcycle runners to carry messages. They womped Big Army and they called a PAUSEX to reset because Army was losing too bigly and it wasn’t fair.

IcyReaper · April 24, 2024 at 10:28 am

Fanboy, I believe the was Van Winkle at a CENTCOM exercise. Met him a couple times at ecercises. VERY good tactician.
That’s the kind of leaders the military needs.

Aesop · April 24, 2024 at 11:51 am

These are people with checkers mentality, and the day is going to come when they come up against guys who play chess, and think 10 moves and countermoves ahead. And will get their collective clocks cleaned.

In Katrina, General HonorĂ©’s memorable “Don’t Get Stuck On Stupid” quote to the idiot press (but I repeat myself) blotted out a bigger message from his memoir of that period. With comms down all over the Gulf Coast, he asked the civilians in charge of disaster response what their back-up comms plans were for when the phones were out.
“Oh, we never planned for the phones being out.” they replied.
I see. So you didn’t plan for a disaster, you planned for an inconvenience.” was his deadpan reply.
He then proceeded to tell his Army people to get satellite comms up and running immediately, and sent the civilian comms people home as the wastes of skin and oxygen they clearly were.

Working in SoCal, it took me about 15 minutes in my head to plan any number of terrorist attacks that would have 10x the casualties of 9/11, without even breaking a sweat, and with a cost under $10K in preps.

That they haven’t happened just shows the terrorists don’t have the chops or people in place to pull them off, because if I could figure them out, so could damned near anyone else.

And TPTB have not a single effing response to any of them, except ordering more body bags.

And based purely on seeing TPTB in real disasters and drills, having half of the nominal leadership dead or missing doesn’t create chaos IRL, it’s usually an unlooked-for blessing.

BTW, elsewhere in the world, terrorist incidents are always assumed to be the minor set-up for a second, larger attack, on the responders to the first one, and/or the hospitals the victims get transported to.

The lack of such foresight here is going to reap deadly dividends, judging by the abysmal security of any hospital in the United States.

As for staging/assembly areas, start thinking in terms of “claymores in trashcans”, if you want to give yourself nightmares about the bloodbaths to come.
People aren’t nearly paranoid enough.

TRX · April 26, 2024 at 9:29 am

Billy Mitchell toured Japan in the 1920s, and found the Japanese Navy to be quite open about their intentions of attacking the US. He tried to tell people about it when he got back, but the Fed didn’t want to hear it, and he was eventually court-martialled for ignoring a gag order.

One of the things Mitchell mentioned was the absolute certainty the Japanese had, that they would win no matter what. Ugaki’s thumb on the scale makes sense, viewed from that aspect.

Ugaki rode that horse all the way to the end, though. After Hirohito’s surrender broadcast, Ugaki Matome – at the time in command of the kamikazis – ordered one last kamikazi attack, then climbed aboard and left with the departing flight. All were shot down before they were able to hit any USN ships.

JoshO · April 26, 2024 at 7:41 pm

In the Reserves I did a lot of OPFOR stuff for National Guard units going overseas. Was a ton of fun on my end even if we didn’t get to plan our ops and ‘free play’ as much as we would have liked.

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