By Michael Lynch, Army Heritage and Education CenterJune 9, 2009
Gettysburg -- the mere mention of the name stirs passion and invokes haunting memories of the actions on that far famed field 146 years ago this week. Though the participants in that battle are long gone, Gettysburg is etched in our national memory. Simply remembering the past is not enough, however; the past informs the present, and one of the best methods of doing so is the battlefield staff ride. The Army has used the battlefield staff ride, a traditional yet still popular method of studying and analyzing battles and campaigns, extensively over the last 100 years to develop insights from the past.
The staff ride originated in the mid 19th Century with the German general and theorist Helmuth von Moltke, who saw it as a way to train General Staff officers on key military and strategic concepts. Eben Swift may be properly seen as the father of the American Army staff ride. As the Assistant Commandant of the General Service and Staff School (todayAca,!a,,cs Command and General Staff College), Major Swift led a group of twelve students on a Aca,!A"staff rideAca,!A? to the great Civil War battlefield of Chickamauga, GA, in 1906. Since that time, Army schools have used staff rides to enhance professional military education. It began at CGSC and has continued at the Army War College and the various officer schools; however, staff riding is not limited to officers. Indeed, NCOs, too, find the process useful to understand higher level decision-making, tactics, and leadership; they also benefit from a historical view of training.
A properly conducted staff ride consists of three phases:
a. Preliminary Study Phase: Participants study the battle or campaign in detail with guidance from the staff ride instructor. During this phase, each participant assumes a role or position to brief during the ride. This Aca,!A"active learningAca,!A? enhances the educational value of the staff ride.
b. Field Study Phase: A well-led staff ride with a competent instructor on the campaign or battle site is an invaluable lesson for all. The instructor should set the stage at each stand, orienting the students to key terrain, and then guide the students through the discussion of the actions at each position, finishing the stand with questions that help spark deeper analyses of the actions. Understanding the terrain, technology, force structure, and backgrounds of the key commanders is critical to understanding the battle. Properly prepared students will gain immeasurably from the experience of presenting information to their peers in this environment.
c. Integration Phase: Integrating the insights and understandings developed during the staff ride and applying them to the current environment is crucial to the learning experience. At the end of the staff ride, the instructor should provide a final integration phase to examine the experience and firmly link the insights of the past to the Army of today.
Several Army organizations conduct staff rides for a variety of audiences.
a. The Center of Military History in Washington, DC, conducts staff rides for senior government officials. Its website is located at http://www.history.army.mil/.
b. The Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, PA, conducts staff rides for its classes, and for senior business leaders and government officials. Since the mid-1980s, it has developed the widely used series of books The U.S. Army War College Guide to Civil War Battles. http://www.carlisle.army.mil/.
c. The Army Heritage and Education Center, also at Carlisle Barracks, PA, conducts staff rides for senior government officials, the Chief of Staff of the ArmyAca,!a,,cs counterpart program, and Army units. The website is located at www.usahec.org.
d. The Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, KS, conducts staff rides for the Command and General Staff College, other Army units, and senior government officials. Its Staff Ride Team has also developed a frequently used series of staff ride handbooks. http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/csi/index.
The staff ride is an excellent venue for affording Soldiers insights into the exercise of command in combat. It also enables understanding our military history in a concrete and useful way. A third benefit is that it provides perspectives for other types of leaders. Enduring leadership principles and strategic decision making are timeless concepts that senior business, government (state and local as well as federal), non-profit, and educational organizations find useful. They, too, use the staff ride as a vehicle for understanding these concepts. Simply said - it is not just for the military anymore. Done properly, staff rides can enhance the studentAca,!a,,cs understanding in a way that no classroom can, and can link the abstract past to a tangible present.
ABOUT THIS STORY: Many of the sources presented in this article are among 400,000 books, 1.7 million photos and 12.5 million manuscripts available for study through the U.S. Army Military History Institute (MHI). The artifacts shown are among nearly 50,000 items of the Army Heritage Museum (AHM) collections. MHI and AHM are part of the: Army Heritage and Education Center (AHEC), 950 Soldiers Drive, Carlisle, PA, 17013-5021.
EditorAca,!a,,cs Note: The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of CAPT Al Lord (USN, Ret.), COL Len Fullenkamp (USA, Ret.), both of the U.S. Army War College and Dr. Ricardo Herrera, Combat Studies Institute.