By Ms. Kelly Morris (U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence)February 24, 2017
Soldiers from the Aviation Captains Career Course here traveled to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. to visit the training site of the historic Doolittle Raiders of World War II as part of their course curriculum Feb. 15.
Fifty-eight Soldiers prepared in advance to present their research on various topics to the group during the "staff ride," as they toured points of interest at Wagner Field, Eglin Air Force Base, and the US Air Force Armament Museum.
While previous staff rides involved an infantry museum, Ken Tilley, historian for the US Army Aviation Center of Excellence planned this event to focus more on Aviation history, and the students rose to the occasion with the quality of the research they presented, he said.
"The students teach it, I facilitate," Tilley said. "They did a fantastic job, better than I expected."
Staff rides are intended to "take students to a battlefield where Soldiers can portray the roles of all the major players, walk the terrain, tactics, maneuver--all the things that you learn in the military, and look at a previous battle and see how it was done," Tilley said.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of America's first offensive attack on Japan, a one-way mission of 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers with 80 aircrew, commanded by Lt. Col. James Doolittle, that took off from the USS Hornet, for a long overwater flight to Japan.
The air raid, which followed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in December of 1941, raised morale in America and set events in motion that changed the course of the war in the Pacific during World War II.
To help Soldiers prepare for the staff ride, Tilley provided access to a collection of first-hand account, oral history interviews to use in their research.
He also arranged to have US Air Force and Navy historians on hand during the event to provide the Joint perspective, including about aircraft carriers.
The group made three stops on the tour.
At Wagner Field Soldiers stood on the runway where the top-secret, two-week training initiative was conducted in March of 1942 in preparation for the Doolittle Raid on Japan. They marked off 500 feet, the total distance the Army Air Forces fixed-wing aviators had to get airborne from an aircraft carrier.
Inside a World War II era maintenance hangar on Eglin Air Force Base, the Soldiers learned about the maintenance and modifications that were made to the Army B-25 Mitchell airplane.
At the US Air Force Armament Museum Soldiers viewed a B-25 airplane on display, a replica of the lightweight "Mark Twain" bombsight tool designed by a Soldier that was used for releasing ordnance, and a 500-lb. bomb.
"We could relate a lot of what was done in 1942 to today. They had to use critical thinking skills, they had to adapt, and they had to change the way they did things. Army Aviators worked with the Navy, and today we're in as (much of a) Joint environment as we've ever been in," Tilley said.
For Aviators to have a staff ride that provides an opportunity to make correlations between Army Aviation then and now is "needful," according to Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christopher Braund, an instructor of military history at the Warrant Officer Career College, who helped plan the event.
"This is filling a void by giving them a history lesson that applies directly to their heritage," Braund said. "What Aviators do today, to include performance planning, fuel calculations, and the risk assessment process, those things directly apply in their environment today as they did then. They cannot get that correlation on a ground-centric staff ride."
"The daring and courage Army Aviators have today is exactly what we had in 1942, and what's expected of them today is the same thing that was expected of Army Aviators in 1942," Braund said.
Braund said he hopes to expand the Aviation-focused staff rides in the future to include students in the Warrant Officer Advanced Course here.