>Preparing to Exercise or Exercising to Prepare?

>By CAPT David C. Haynes, Chief, Prevention Division, Fifth Coast Guard District

The other day I was talking with a member of my staff and he mentioned a true but vexing contrast between “preparing to exercise” and “exercising to prepare.” I thought about that concept for a moment and then realized the truth of what he said.

Preparing to exercise” is the act of trying to triumph over the “exercise” and emerge with the appearance of being successful. In this case, the goal is to win, to be victorious, and when the exercise is complete you will have beaten the odds and have “counted coup” upon on the exercise sponsor, controllers, and evaluators. When the paperwork is all done, and the congratulatory pat on the back is given, all is well till next year.


Exercising to prepare” is the act of implementing risk-based response plans based on validated scenarios. It means testing an organization’s ability to employ and deploy resources effectively and efficiently. The organization is focused on response objectives that are linked to pre-defined critical success factors. In the end, when the exercise is over, it’s a win/win situation because we know where we stand; our preparedness is understood and our lessons are learned. And…when next year’s exercise comes, we’ll be better prepared than we were last year because we’ll know what to do before we do it.

Of the two exercises described above, which one has the greatest influence on the sustainment of unit preparedness/readiness? There’s no doubt that preparedness through well designed exercises competes for attention with the priorities of daily activities. However, the root cause of being in the first example is usually apathy toward the benefits of true preparedness.

As Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to Governor Curtin of Pennsylvania, on April 8, 1861, wrote: “I think the necessity of being ready increases—Look to it.”