GETTYSBURG, Pennsylvania – Most Americans are familiar with the word Gettysburg from the 1863 Civil War Battle and famed address of President Abraham Lincoln, where he acknowledged the more than 51,000 American casualties at a particularly painful time in our nation’s history. While battle planning and execution are in many ways similar today, one factor of military leadership evolved significantly, the role of the senior enlisted leader and that non-commissioned officer’s relationship with his or her commander.
“General Ulysses S. Grant did not have a Senior Enlisted Advisor as his right hand man, and the Battle of Gettysburg did not have Nominative Command Sergeants Major,” Training and Doctrine Command’s senior enlisted leader Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel T. Hendrex said. ”So, we look back at these battlefields and look back at these different times, ask and discuss, what if we had a senior enlisted advisor here on this part of the battlefield, what would your responsibility have been and what would your advice have been to that general officer and correlate that to today.”
Twenty command sergeants major from across the U.S. Army trained at the first in-person Nominative Leaders Course since the COVID-19 Pandemic at Carlisle Barracks, Penn March 15 - 26. The class included a Gettysburg Staff Ride, taking the perspective Hendrex discussed while walking the grounds of the battlefield.
“The best part I enjoy about the staff ride as a whole is listening to our students take the stories or examples they’re exposed to here and then translate them to experiences or circumstances they may be facing today in their organizations,” said Professor Erik N. Anderson, also the Nominative Leader Course Director, Army Strategic Education Program. Anderson was joined by Army War College Professor Dave Dworak, Deputy Provost, who led the training.
“The Staff Ride is one of the most powerful experiential learning tools the Army has. When it is properly executed, it professionally develops Soldiers, hones critical thinking skills, enhances esprit de corps, and fosters the sense of belonging to the American Profession of Arms,” said Dr. Peter G. Knight, Chief of Field and International History Programs Division, U.S. Army Center of Military History.
Knight recently released a newly revised Staff Ride Guide building on the basic methodology authored by William G. Robertson.
“William G. Robertson’s methodology from the late 1980s is brought forward into the 21st Century, where we employ a variety of time-tested and innovative teaching techniques along with new technologies in the conduct of the Staff Ride,” Knight said.
The Staff Ride: Fundamentals, Experiences, Techniques, is available from Army University Press at https://history.army.mil/html/books/070/70-21/cmhPub_070-21.pdf
According to Knight, a Staff Ride is an experiential learning vehicle where there are three distinct learning phases, a preliminary study phase, a field study phase and an integration phase. During the field study phase, students are absorbing the battle in all its dimensions he said.
“For example, if students stand on and explore the terrain where Pickett’s Charge occurred, in walking the approach path of the Confederate units or standing on Cemetery Ridge at the Union position, they will see that there are a lot of undulations that mask the approaching Confederate troops at various points,” he said. “This view helps them visualize those Confederate units advancing under long range artillery fire, closing upon the Union position, receiving short range artillery fire, and then finally closing the gap to fight the infantry at musket range and at close quarters, and they will see how Pickett’s Division and the other units that made that massive assault, were decimated.”
Staff Rides conclude with the integration phase.
“This is when students relate the insights gained from studying the historical event to what they themselves do in the Army today, and understand how those insights can help them become better professionals, better at what they do for the Army,” Knight said. ”The experience will inspire them to new heights of professionalism and performance in the nation’s service.”
Students of the class expressed similar sentiments.
“There are a variety of Sergeants Majors here, we get to see individual perspectives, from infantry to someone like myself who has a medical background,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Rebecca Booker, Senior Enlisted Advisor for Regional Health Command- Atlantic, Fort Belvoir, Va.
“I wish I had something like this earlier in my career,” she said. “It’s very beneficial with the strategic thinking process and how we can help our commanders with mission intent and speaking the same language is a large part of it.”
According to Hendrex, every Soldier has the ability to make a difference.
”You are part of something bigger than yourself and there is a long proud history of service,” he said. “Any Soldier can affect the outcome of a battle, whether that Soldier is a young Audie Murphy to Staff Sgt. David Belavia from Afghanistan. We all have the ability through individual actions.”
For more information about planning historically minded training through the U.S. Army Center of Military History, visit www.history.army.mil. For the newly revised Staff Ride Guide click here . To access and download training available for Staff Rides visit the Army University Press at https://www.armyupress.army.mil/educational-services/staff-ride-team-offerings