By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterSeptember 1, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- History can be an invaluable tool to learn from when looking toward the future, and for many warrant officer candidates, it also helps remind them why they serve.
Eighty candidates of Class 16-20 of the U.S. Army Warrant Officer Career College got the opportunity to get a firsthand look at history with a trip to the Andersonville National Historic Site in Andersonville, Georgia, which is a memorial to all American prisoners of war throughout the nation's history, as well as the site of the Camp Sumter military prison, which was where more than 45,000 Union Soldiers were kept during the Civil War.
"For me, this was a very humbling experience," said WOC Jonathan Bachtel. "Just getting to walk the grounds and to put it all in perspective was amazing. We knew going in the numbers (of how many and who died) there, and hearing the numbers and actually walking the grounds and seeing the tombstones lined up so close together was a very humbling experience."
The Andersonville prison was the largest of the military prisons of the Civil War and was the deadliest landscape of the war, according to the National Park Service website, www.nps.gov/ande/index.htm. Of the 45,000 Soldiers imprisoned there, nearly 13,000 died.
For many of the candidates, like WOC Charles Martinez IV, it was being able to see the sacrifice of the Soldiers who came before him that answered questions to why he became a Soldier.
"That trip answers the question, 'Why?'" he said. "Why are we serving and what's important about putting on this uniform? All of that gets put together when you study something and you get to see this kind of site.
"History always has to be something that Soldiers are thinking about," continued Martinez. "This brings that concept of service to the forefront and you start really thinking about why you're serving."
Fellow WOC Jennifer McShane agreed and said the visit was a great way to see the way the force and nation has evolved over time.
"This gives us an idea of what our foundation was based off of, and how we've progressed and moved forward throughout the years as a nation," she said.
The staff ride to Andersonville was meant to be a learning experience for the candidates, and leading up to the event, each Soldier was tasked with researching and generating a military brief on the topic they were assigned, according to McShane.
"We covered (different historical figures of the time) who took part in the Civil War or had very important rolls -- it helped us to visualize when we went out to the Andersonville area," she said. "This allowed us to become a bit more linked to the individuals who had gone through those experiences during that period of time."
Bachtel said each candidate was given a few days of prep time to do research, then they were tasked to give an in-class brief, as well as an on-site brief, and for others, like WOC Adam Wong, it was a way to make the lessons stick.
"There is always going to be a certain limit to preparedness that you can get from books or watching videos on any given subject, especially with something like history," said Wong. "In order to truly put it into perspective and experience it you're going to have to put eyes on it or be there to see it because it adds a whole new depth."
WOC Chauncey Johnson said the lessons learned integrated perfectly with his warrant officer training.
"This course has taught me to be resourceful, exercise talent management and mission command," he said. "This is the first course I've ever been in where we received a mission order. We had to disseminate information based off intent, and I think it was really critical to this course because that's what you're actually going to do in an operation environment. That will produce the quality officers that we're going to have in the future of the warrant officer cohort."
For others, it was the experience that reignited their passion for learning.
"What this whole process did for me was reinvigorate my love of learning," said Martinez. "This actually instilled a sense of wanting to learn, and in that I think it was the biggest impactful thing about this whole staff ride experience."
"This was a great way to show that history is not just dates," added Wong. "This trip definitely put into perspective that these were real events that took place. Dates aren't what make the event important … the event is what is important."