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I started this blog to keep in touch with my family and friends during my time attending Commissioned Officer Training (COT) and the Judge Advocate Staff Officer Course (JASOC) at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. Now I'm done with training and back in the "real" world, but I'll keep updating this blog with any interesting developments from my JAG career.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Week 2 (Day 10): Project X and the OODA Loop

Last week we learned about the OODA Loop.  OODA stands for Observe (the information before you), Orient (analyze the information and brainstorm), Decide (on a course of action), Act (on your decision).  The “loop” of these four actions in sequence was created by an Air Force Colonel nicknamed “40-second Boyd.”  During the Korean War, he knew that his fighter planes were no match for the Korean Migs they were up against, at least when it came to mechanics.  But he thought that his men could outsmart the Korean pilots by making decisions more quickly and putting themselves in a better position.  He thought that they could run through a structured decision-making process—the OODA loop—in fewer than forty seconds.  And he was right.
On Wednesday, the day after the PFB, we went to the Leadership Reaction Course (LRC) on campus to employ the OODA Loop and do an exercise called Project X.  The LRC consists of 22 (I think) obstacles.  Each obstacle has a 20-minute time limit, and we tackle them in teams of 6.  For the actual LRC exercise we do closer to the end of COT, we’ll do 15 obstacles; each member of our flight will serve as team leader for one obstacle.  Our flight commanders watch our decision-making process, keep an eye out for penalties (e.g., stepping on a “mine field,” touching “acid,” making too much noise).  If we complete the obstacles we get bonus points, but the focus of the obstacles is to see how we work as a team.  Project X was our introduction to the LRC; we did four obstacles (none of the ones that we’ll do later at the LRC exercise) so that we could practice the leadership skills we’ll need to tackle the full LRC exercise later in the course.
We didn’t complete any of our four obstacles within the 20-minute period.  But we did get better with each one.  I was team leader for the last obstacle we did, which was fortunate because I had the benefit of having observed, or been involved with, the prior three obstacles.

We stood with our back to the obstacle.  When an air horn blew, we turned around and ran to the obstacle, ending up against a concrete wall, behind a red line, looking at a big wooden slab about 15 feet wide and twenty feet high, tilted up at about a 75-degree angle.  As we ran up to the obstacle, I saw another slab of equal size on the other side of this one, with a gap in the middle about three feet across.  We were briefed on the scenario, which went something like this: 
You and your team returned to a prior safehouse to find that the enemy had discovered it and destroyed the house.  They also placed mines all around the house and put some traps around the collapsed roof, which is the only remaining part of the house.  You had some equipment inside the house that you think is still salvageable.  You need to get your people from where you are to the other side of the house—and you need to retrieve your equipment from inside.
[NOTE:  I deleted portions of this post after making this blog public so as not to give away the solution to any future COT trainees.]

Having watched or participated in the prior three obstacle challenges, I knew that our Flight Commander (Snake Eyes) was watching us to see how we reached a decision.  The most important thing up front was to ensure that everyone understood the objective.  So I repeated it three times for everyone.  We need to get up this side of the roof, get our equipment, and get all of us and the equipment down the other side.  Everyone understood.  He also wanted to see how we put the OODA Loop to use, and he wanted to see how I involved every team member.  So my first step was to gather information.  I asked my team for input.  There are mines right in front of us but we may be able to touch that fallen roof from here.  The sides of the roof are painted red, so we have to make sure we don’t touch there or we’ll get a penalty.  The angle of that roof is too steep for us to run up it, and it’s too high for us to jump – plus there are no handholds.  And so forth.  After a few minutes of that, it was time to move on to the orient/brainstorm phase, and then the action phase.

[Fast-forward to the end.]

The 20-minute air-horn blew with me still inside the house, one teammate on the other side, and two of my team at the top of the first roof section.
It was a great learning experience.  Afterward, Snake Eyes told us that he saw a lot of teamwork and that we had the textbook solution and plan within the first three minutes.  What killed us was the penalties.  Still, we had a lot of fun.  We’ll have a chance at redemption at LRC in a couple of weeks.  And that time we’ll be able to take pictures, so stay tuned!


  1. Hey Kiko, sounds like you are having a great time - a new experience! Always something new to explore in life. We miss you at the office.
    Take care.

  2. Hey buddy, Great to read a bit about your adventures. Love the photos of Joaquin. Amazing how quickly they develop. Best wishes to all the Ochoas!!