9th PSYOP staff ride to Gettysburg builds cohesion, morale of unit leadership
May 27, 2010
GETTYSBURG, Pa. - If offered the chance to drop into a turf farm in a historic location via parachute then navigate one of the most famous battlefields in the United States, would you volunteer for the mission'
For 30 officers and non-commissioned officers from the 9th Psychological Operations Battalion, the answer was an enthusiastic "of course!"
Unfortunately, between aircraft and weather, the jump became a very long bus ride to Gettysburg. The three day staff ride remained a unique opportunity for the leadership to step out of the office and into history.
"This was a chance to revisit history and go over the lessons learned," said Lt. Col. Bruce Leahy, 9th PSYOP Bn. commander. "The issues that the military leadership faced at the Battle of Gettysburg are many of the same ones that military leaders face today."
He added that the purpose of this exercise was to build cohesion between newcomers to the battalion and those who recently returned from overseas deployments.
The leadership professional development exercise would also give the unit's officers and non-commissioned officers a better understanding of battlefield leadership tactics, techniques and procedures through a guided tour of the Gettysburg battlefield.
Leahy stressed that Gettysburg was chosen for the staff ride since the military leaders there faced many of the same challenges that military leaders face today.
Leaders on both sides were engaged in long drawn-out wars with wavering home support as well as international support of the conflicts. Military careers did not always turn out the way people intended; but in the end perseverance brought unanticipated success.
The battlefield tour was lead by licensed park guide David Weaver. At the first stop Weaver highlighted the information which influenced the leader's decisions. General Henry Heath came to Gettysburg, not for a fight, but looking for a shoe mill (which did not exist) to acquire shoes for his men.
Communication on the battlefield was limited to verbal, written and predetermined signals (i.e. when the guns start firing that's your cue to begin).
"It's interesting how General (Robert E.) Lee did not know where General (James Ewell Brown) Stuart was or when he would show up," said Maj. Amy Burrows, commander of Company A, 9th PSYOP Bn.
Stuart had deviated from Lee's plan to move rapidly and decided to capture 120 wagons of union supplies. Burrows said that if Lee had known, he could have told Stuart to leave the wagons and move quickly to Gettysburg.
Weaver highlighted the hopes and disappointments of several leaders whose careers were affected by their time on the battlefield at Gettysburg.
One particularly disappointed young Army captain, born 29 years after the battle, was chosen to command the first training facility on the battlefield near his family's farm.
Throughout his career, this officer eagerly sought opportunities to lead troops into war. It would take years before he would accomplish this, but Dwight D. Eisenhower did move up the ranks to become a five-star general and was eventually elected the 34th president.
Young officers were placed in high levels of responsibility. One such officer was 23-year-old George Armstrong Custer, who was one of the most photographed officers of that time period.
"This guy was younger than I am," said Burrows, "the generals at Gettysburg were responsible for leading over a thousand Soldiers." She laughed as she added, "They did this without PowerPoint."
One thing that has not changed much over time is the role of first sergeants in taking care of troops. Weaver talked about how the job of the Civil War first sergeant was to ensure Soldiers on battlefield had ammo.
First Sgt. Matthew Tumilty, Company C, 9th PSYOP Bn., said the primary duty of a first sergeant is to ensure that the troops are stocked with food and ammo.
Over the years, leaders from the 9th PSYOP Bn. have gone to Gettysburg for staff rides; sometimes they jump in, other times they ride, but either way the intent is still the same, to study the battle field and build cohesion among unit leaders. Tumilty said that before this trip he had known some of the officers and NCOs for more than a decade.
"I remember when Colonel Leahy was in the company, then became the battalion executive officer and now he's the battalion commander."
For him, this trip was an opportunity to bond and rekindle old friendships.
" It's interesting to see how positions can change people and their perspectives," he said.
Burrows' only regret was that on this trip the conditions were not right for the traditional form of transportation to Gettysburg.
"I wish we could have jumped in." When all conditions (plane, weather and drop zone) are right, the team parachutes into Gettysburg.
The last stop of the trip was at Arlington National Cemetery where the Soldiers paid their respects to a fallen 9th PSYOP Bn. Soldier, Cpl. George Lutz. Chaplain David Meyers spoke of how Lutz will forever be remembered by his friends and Family as an outgoing and caring individual, and that his military Family will always remember the professional Soldier who brightened the lives of those he served with.
Burrows placed a battalion coin on the gravestone of the Soldier who had served in her company before she took command.