Sometimes you get lucky and your plan works just as you thought it would. Enjoy those days, because there will not be many of them. No matter how smart you are or how hard you work, on the battlefield, the enemy always gets a vote. The famous philosopher Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.” A Green Beret knows something about taking a punch, and they have a plan for that, too.

Exercise Robin Sage is a series of very bad days. The culmination of the Special Forces Qualification Course, Robin Sage starts with intense planning, and then your ODA goes into Pineland, where a team of professional role players and evaluators crushes those sweet plans contingency by contingency until you lose your plan B, followed by that alternative you never wanted to use until you are in emergency mode. That is the point at which you realize, when you plan for the worst thing that can possibly happen, and that thing happens, the situation can only improve.

SEAL math famously teaches, “Two is one and one is none.” Green Berets aren’t happy with those odds when failure can risk a life or jeopardize the mission. Lacking the SEAL’s poetic nature, the Green Beret forgoes rhyming and uses the acronym PACE.

PACE describes a methodology originally used to build a communication plan. For an ODA in a denied area, communication is the only way to get resupplied, and most importantly, extracted. The loss of all communications normally initiates the escape-and-evasion plan. The no-comms plan universally sucks, and almost always means abandonment of the mission and unsupported escape and evasion. Nobody wants that. The PACE acronym stands for primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency.

Primary: The routine and most effective method of communication.

Alternate: Another common method of passing a message with minimal to no other impact. May be used along with the primary under normal circumstances to assure readiness.

Contingency: This method will normally not be as convenient or efficient as the first two methods, but is capable of passing traffic when necessary.

Emergency: This is a method of last resort that probably sucks in some very significant way and may incur significant delays.

The PACE method establishes four methods of communication between your team and higher. The genius of PACE is what engineers call ‘graceful degradation.’ When your primary radio fails, it is way too soon to worry; you still have A, C, and E. You transition through the plan and hopefully get extracted before you are forced to rely on E.

An example of a PACE plan would be:

Primary: Satellite radio

Alternate: High-frequency radio

Contingency: Satellite phone

Emergency:  Survival radio on guard frequency to aircraft overhead

To be valid, each method must have independent equipment and power sources. This costs a lot of weight and is typically spread across the team so the loss of one man or rucksack doesn’t compromise more than one method.

Iconic Robin Sage, Special Forces’ Culmination Exercise, Begins

Read Next: Iconic Robin Sage, Special Forces’ Culmination Exercise, Begins


Well, if PACE is good for communications, it is good for everything else, formal and informal. If I have four ways to do something, I can be pretty cavalier about a single failure. But there are many instances where we just don’t have that many options. On a parachute infiltration, we have two parachutes and the option to stay on the plane. The failure of all three of those alternatives makes the emergency option for reaching the ground look pretty grim.

For water, chow, weapons, and everything else essential, PACE is a natural way of thinking:

Primary: M4 rifle

Alternate: Grenades

Contingency: Handgun

Emergency: I use my knife to get another gun or two from the enemy

When the Green Beret has a full set of PACE alternatives in any area, he is confident. As problems arise, he works through the degraded options, always looking at ways to regain the lost alternatives and move back up the chain. Things will go wrong, equipment will get lost or broken, teams might get separated during the mission or by enemy action. PACE lets you plan for the very worst while maintaining a positive mindset.

Green Beret survival training prepares them to improvise weapons and shelter while foraging food and water. This gives them a resilience that allows them to maintain morale in conditions that would break others. They live PACE everyday. The idea that you can handle the worst possible situation makes anything better seem like luxury.

You can use PACE to plan how to get to work or what to do if your girlfriend dumps you. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Have a series of plans for that. Having thought out the options and requirements beforehand makes the execution of a plan much less stressful.

Think like a Green Beret. Use PACE. If you don’t have that many options, be cautious and try to develop more. If you get pushed down to emergency options, push back and recover. Make a plan and work it. As Elvis, The King himself, once said, “When things go wrong, don’t go with them.”