Friday, December 12, 2014

Hangry AARs?

After action review
(Photo credit: Springs Fire - 2012; Kari Greer/USFS)
Hangry AARs?
by Travis Dotson

Richard Sinkovitz of the Arrowhead Hotshots brought this subject to my attention and inspired this piece; his original thoughts close it out.

When do we conduct AAR’s? After shift right? If it was a “good” shift, you know, slamming line, chasing spots, putting fire down and pushing 16 to turn the corner...everyone is tired. Everyone’s blood sugar is low. Then we circle up to talk.

Check this out. Research conducted at Ohio State University showed that lower levels of blood sugar were a reliable predictor of how angry and aggressive one would act towards their spouse.

“The study shows how one simple, often overlooked factor–hunger caused by low levels of blood glucose–may play a role in marital arguments, confrontations and possibly even some domestic violence,” said Brad Bushman, lead author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.

Our fellow crewmembers may not be our “spouses” (although there is plenty of fireline romance leading to spousedom), but we do call these folks our brothers and sisters for a reason. We love to wax poetic about how much like family a crew becomes through shared hardship and plain old hours logged in close proximity. All I’m saying is I feel the comparison is applicable. In fact, I know plenty of spouses who would argue that their significant other is also married to fire and/or “the crew”; and during the season, that marriage gets way more attention than the actual spouse does!

“At the end of the 21 days, people who had generally lower levels of glucose were willing to blast their spouses with unpleasant noises at a higher volume and for a longer time than those who had higher glucose levels.” At the end of a long shift, roll, or season for that matter,the likelihood of insults and Gatorade bottles being hurled in the back of the buggy increases, right? We all know we get testy when were tired; but add hungry, and it’s a double whammy.

“People can relate to this idea that when they get hungry, they get cranky,” Bushman said.

We know this. We call it getting “Hangry.” (For those of you not down with the latest street jive, Hungry + Angry = Hangry.)

Under what conditions do we conduct AARs?


Sure, it’s not every shift we do AARs in hangry mode. Half the time the mopup shift was so boring, we started sport eating around 0900. We may not be as blood sugar-challenged for those particular end-of-shift, show-and-tell sessions; but there’s often not much action to review on those days. The shifts full of action are the ones packed with potential learning. These are shifts most likely to benefit future operations if we dig deep with the review and discussion…but we’re tired and hungry after those shifts.

“Even those who reported they had good relationships with their spouses were more likely to express anger if their blood glucose levels were lower.”

Of course not every bust-ass shift with lots of learning potential is going to result in harsh words and a crew brawl because there was nothing left in the proverbial gas tank. Often those shifts go very well, and there is not much resentment or hostility to kick start the anger. But every so often there is a shift or series of shifts rife with opposing views and high stakes – perfect ingredients for a juicy AAR. It’s in those instances, we might want to take this research into account.

“Bushman said that glucose is fuel for the brain. The self-control needed to deal with anger and aggressive impulses takes energy, and that energy is provided in part by glucose.”

“Even though the brain is only 2 percent of our body weight, it consumes about 20 percent of our calories. It is a very demanding organ when it comes to energy,” he said.

Pretty simple. We fuel ourselves for demanding physical labor; let’s also fuel ourselves for demanding conversations.

Remember this whole idea came from a Captain on Arrowhead Hotshots – he sums it up perfectly:
Hey Travis
I was thinking about all of the well-intended AARs that have either been less than effective or poorly timed for whatever reason. It reminded me of a study I was reading about how couples tend to fight more often, have more aggressive feelings, and lack self-control when their blood sugar is low. It got me to thinking about how much more attentive I would have been in general at many AARs in my career if someone had managed the minutes before the AAR a little better. I feel like this might be something worth mentioning somewhere. I know it might be impractical to have a case of candy bars on reserve for every AAR but we often know beforehand when we might be in for a contentious one. Maybe getting some sugar in people’s bellies a few minutes before we start might lead to some more meaningful discussion.

You now have the information. Use it. Lead with compassion. Feed your folks the fuel they need to be productive.

Thanks to regular blog contributor Travis Dotson, Analyst for the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee, for this blog. All expressions are those of the author.

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