ZAGAN, Poland - Officers and noncommissioned officers from the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 'Dagger' Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, attended a 4-day staff ride in Normandy France, Dec. 17-20, to draw lessons from 1st Inf. Div., battle for Cantigny, France in WWI as well as lessons from WWII 'D-Day' operations during the Allied invasion of German-occupied France, starting June 6, 1944.
Staff rides are the Army's version of field trips, led by historians or knowledgeable guides. They focus on historical battles and the fields they were fought. Army units and training organizations use them to teach history, and encourage contemplation, analysis and discussion about their applicable lessons.
The Brigade took almost all of its lead staff representatives on their staff ride, leaving the daily operations of the organization in the hands of its junior staff officers and NCOs.
"These events are important because they also contribute to readiness. Professional development of our officers and NCOs is a force multiplier, and we should to make it a priority," said Capt. Jonathan Hawkins, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd ABCT.
The lessons of military history are valuable to an Army organization because they allow Soldiers to learn from their predecessors' experience, their successes and failures, and also their tactics, techniques, and procedures.
The event also contributed to the unit's esprit de corps, as participants learned about the history of its division's role in WWI and WWII, as well as the history of their own brigade's involvement in the invasion of France as an airborne brigade.
The three things that mattered most in these conflicts were organization, doctrine, and personalities, said James S. Wheeler, staff ride tour guide and author of "'The Big Red One,' America's Legendary 1st Infantry Division from World War I to Desert Storm."
The idea of organization came across forcefully as Wheeler enumerated the deliberate composition and array of forces that were arranged by capability to meet specific objectives. Examples included the airborne units deployed behind enemy lines, responsible for securing key terrain, and the engineer brigades sent forward to reduce natural and emplaced obstacles.
The WWI portion of the tour offered insight into the evolution of military doctrine, as a debate waged about the best ways to maneuver and defeat opposing forces in a conflict where machine guns and trench warfare dominated the battlefield. The adaptations they developed and the lessons they learned paid dividends for preparation for the next large-scale war. During WWII, the synchronization and employment of combined arms, a major lesson from WWI, provided the notable doctrinal takeaway, said Wheeler.
Wheeler also highlighted the role leaders, which he refers to as personalities, played in WWII; leaders such as Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, whom he said was favored because of his ability to get along with leaders from the Allied countries; and other leaders chosen prior to the invasion, such as Maj. Gen Clarence Huebner, commander, 1st Inf. Div., because of his preferred leadership style. Wheeler believed personality traits such as they displayed played a key role in the success of the campaign.
One additional point he emphasized was the ingenuity of the Soldiers who fought, and the entire American industrial complex that consolidated to deliver equipment that increased Soldiers' survivability, and gave them a fighting chance to prevail over German defenders during the invasions. Examples include the massive deception plan the AEF conducted to mask their intended invasion location, the casualty marking techniques Soldiers used on the beachheads to prioritize medical care, and the landing crafts known as Higgins boats that successfully delivered platoon-sized elements on the beach.
Throughout the staff ride, Col. David Gardner, commander, 2nd ABCT, charged his officers to consider the operations, actions and lessons from the perspective of their specialties and leverage those lessons to perform their roles with equal distinction.
The Dagger Brigade is deployed to Central Europe in support of Atlantic Resolve, a mission intended to deter aggression in the region by sustaining and demonstrating a high level of readiness.