March 10, 2021


The training process to earn a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) certification is escalating, just like most well-formulated training processes in the military and the private industry. Simulated missions start with the bare basics – easy targets, minimal threats, and a focus on following proper procedures rather than advanced tactics or techniques. As the trainee develops, they are introduced to more advanced concepts, which help them overcome more challenging scenarios. Naturally, failure becomes more common and more frustrating as training missions become more dynamic. After struggling in training, the best advice I’ve ever gotten is to re-focus on the basics – simplicity, communication, processes, and, most importantly, readbacks.

In a military context, a “readback” is when the receiver repeats the message they just heard to ensure it was understood accurately. For example, when a JTAC communicates targeting information to an attack aircraft, it is a built-in requirement for the aircraft to provide an exact readback to the JTAC, who then confirms that the readback was correct or provides the necessary information corrections. In a combat situation, this verification of understanding can be the difference between life and death. In private industry, it can help ensure economic survival. This concept can be – and should be – applied in any communication in your organization.

In the Talent War Group’s Podcast #012, “Speak to be Heard, Not to Talk,” we discussed that different people have different styles of receiving and understanding information shared with them. If you share the same information with ten people, it is a fair assumption that there may be ten different perceptions of that information, and none of those perceptions may be aligned with the message you intended to send. Even in simple two-way communication, the sender must verify with the receiver that not only was the content of their message received, but the intent of the message was understood fully.

Keep in mind that listening, hearing, and understanding are three different things. Listening can be passive, and it does not ensure that the communicated message is retained or acted upon. Hearing is an active process that involves engagement from both the sender and the receiver. Understanding can only take place through hearing and must be verified. Verification can be as simple as asking your receiver to repeat what they just heard in their own words. This naturally merges communication styles and opens up effective two-way communication to ensure that all parties understand the intent of a message. Whether you call it readback or verification, closing the communication loop ensures mission comprehension and validates the sender’s received intent.

Finally, there is one more benefit to using a “readback” approach.  It requires that you, as the communicator, are clear with yourself what message you intend to send before you send it.  Knowing there will be a readback after your message has been delivered will help you focus on the critical elements of what you want to hear back from your receiver.

About the author

Dr. Chris Frueh
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Christopher Frueh, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, Professor of Psychology at the University of Hawaii, and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, TX. He has thirty years of professional experience working with military veterans and active-duty personnel and has conducted clinical trials, epidemiology, historical, and neuroscience research, primarily with combat veterans. He has co-authored over 300 scientific publications, including historical analysis of U.S. Army suicides dating back to 1819 and a current graduate textbook on adult psychopathology. Professionally, he has worked with combat veterans since 1991 and devotes much of his time to the military special operations community. He has also published commentaries in the National Review, Huffington Post, New York Times, Time, and Washington Post; and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Washington Post, Scientific American, Stars and Stripes, USA Today, Men’s Health, and Los Angeles Times, among others. Under the pen name Christopher Bartley, he has also published nine novels, including THEY DIE ALONE and most recently, A SEASON PAST.

Lisa Jaster
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Lisa Jaster graduated from the West Point Academy with a BS in Civil Engineering and was commissioned as an active duty engineer officer. During 2003, Lisa deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a company executive officer, later serving as the battalion operations construction officer. She attended the Army Engineer Officer Advanced Course at Fort Leonard Wood, MO, and earned her MS in Civil Engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla in 2004. After leaving the Active Army, Lisa was employed by Shell Oil Company for 12 years. From April to October 2015, she took a six-month leave of absence and attended Army Ranger School, being one of three females that graduated from the first integrated Ranger School course. Lisa is married to a fellow reserve officer and has two children. She lives an active lifestyle competing in anything from ultra trail runs to CrossFit competitions. She loves martial arts training, specifically Jiu-Jitsu, and is always looking for the next challenge to tackle.

Dan Bradley
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After graduating from the Air Force Academy, Dan served for over five years as an officer in the elite Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) community. He served both as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) and as a Task Force Advisor on a 2018 deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. His expertise in selecting, developing, and leading effective small teams stems from his experiences as an Air Force Special Warfare Officer, both in training and in combat.
Dan partnered with the Talent War Group (formerly EF Overwatch) in 2019 and now works as the Director of Sales for Kahn Mechanical Contractors in Dallas, Texas. Dan holds a Master of Arts degree in Strategic Leadership from Saint Bonaventure University. He is passionate about mental health advocacy for the veteran community.

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