Event takes commanders back in time: Staff ride provides post senior leaders
December 16, 2010
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Senior leaders from Fort Jackson traveled more than 300 miles up the road and almost 150 years back in time to learn an important lesson about war: Human factors often determine battlefield outcomes.
Fifteen brigade and battalion commanders, accompanied by the commanding general, deputy commanding officer and chief of staff, traveled to Chattanooga, Tenn., Dec. 6, on a two-day professional development staff ride.
The group visited the site of the Civil War Battle of Chickamauga, which took place Sep. 18-20, 1863.
Dr. Glenn Robertson, director of the Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Dr. Curtis King, also with CSI, served as staff ride instructors.
"We believe that some factors in the outcome of battles do not change over the centuries," Robertson said. "Some of those factors can be characterized under the general grouping of principles of war. Others can be characterized as human factors, such as courage, fear, fatigue, and the interpersonal relationships among commanders.
"This latter group of factors, I believe, is often the most important of all. Because these factors are timeless and universal, they can be studied in any battle in any century," he said.
Maj. Gen. James Milano, Fort Jackson commanding general, stressed the importance of the staff ride.
"This was an invaluable experience, especially for our battalion commanders," Milano said. "I believe all of the commanders on the staff ride have personally experienced how personalities and environmental factors influence decision-making in war, but by understanding each Chickamauga commander's story, and knowing the scenario and outcome of each battle, we all had a better appreciation for the power of human factors in war."
Each of the 12 battalion commanders in the group played the role of a Civil War general. Robertson and King set the stage by describing the scenario at the various battle sites. Each general's personal story was told through a participant.
Lt. Col. Scott Heintzelman, Victory University director, who played the part of Gen. Braxton Bragg, commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, said that playing the role of a commander forces one to see the battlefield from that perspective, and enables that person to better analyze the decisions based on the available information.
"Without this kind of view, it is easy to find fault in the decisions they made when you have perfect information and already know the outcome," Heintzelman said.
Robertson used a wiring diagram as an illustration to further explain the human factor.
"There is the wiring diagram way of looking at how things work, and then there is the actual and seldom overtly stated way things get done, which involves interpersonal relationships. We are all human beings, with all the good and bad that that entails, and are not blocks that respond unthinkingly and automatically," Robertson explained.
The Chickamauga scenario provides many teachable moments on the field, he said, and participants take different insights from the experience.
For Lt. Col. Rick MacDermott, commander of the 4th Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment, the human factor was a lesson learned.
"Battles are a contest of wills. While the weapons change, the essence and nature of conflict do not," MacDermott said. "By studying the battles of the past, we can learn a great deal about leadership and the human factor that so often makes a difference in the outcome."
The importance of being fully engaged as a leader stood out as a valuable lesson for Heintzelman.
"You can't just issue orders in writing and send them out by courier; you have to walk the ground, see the situation for yourself, and take feedback from subordinates. Senior leadership in war is all about decision-making, and you can't make the best decisions without having good situational understanding of the battlefield."
Educating leaders to better understand the battlefield is just one of the many services provided by institute. According to the Handbook to the Battle of Chickamauga, because of the size of the forces involved and difficulty of terrain, this campaign raises many challenging teaching points, therefore making it an excellent staff ride.
"Dr. Robertson and Dr. King made the staff ride come alive for each one of us," Milano said. "Their vast experience in conducting staff rides and the depth of their knowledge of this battle site, in particular, were incredible. No one could walk away from this experience without a better understanding of the complexity of war."