WIESBADEN, GERMANY -- On April 27-29, 42 staff members from U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden visited World War II battlefields in Normandy, France, providing unforgettable perspective into the accomplishments and suffering of our Soldiers 78 years ago in Operation Overlord. From the artificial harbor at Arromanches to the Longues-sur-Mer German fortification, and from the Omaha and Utah landing beaches to even the American military cemetery – these historical sites brought keen awareness to how important cooperation and cohesion among military units was during the Normandy landings for the liberation of Europe.
The Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 was the culmination of over three years of relentless work to organize, train and equip a force capable of breaking into “Fortress Europe”. Without in-depth planning from military staff and an expansive network of civilian experts, the military successes would not have been possible. This cooperation is the guiding principle today for the USAG Wiesbaden to support our Soldiers in the best possible manner. In doing so, the lessons learned 78 years ago can be transferred to the here and now, in a fundamental way.
Empowerment is the key factor
Omaha Beach, serving as a connecting link between U.S. troops and Allied troops may stand as example. As the troops hit the beaches, they faced devastating machine gun fire that turned the shoreline into a vast killing field. Many of the lessons from that day are timeless.
"Empowerment is the key factor. One must have strategies for quick decision-making, for functional logistics and for individual initiative. This is what distinguishes us from our enemy at the time and continues to distinguish us in our garrison work today," said USAG Wiesbaden Garrison Commander Col. Mario A. Washington, in his Commanders Seminar on the evening of the first day.
Soldier’s capacity for mental flexibility and retained knowledge, as well as understanding the overarching mission was critical.
"Not everything went well on D-Day," Washington said. "There was a plan that didn't work, but the Soldiers understood the mission, which is how we as a garrison today need to understand our mission to serve the Soldiers. We need to prepare for the future today. No one knows what the future holds for us."
"A decisive factor is also the trust in the Soldiers and today in the employees," said USAG Wiesbaden Command Sgt. Maj. Richard A. Russell.
The Germans had no confidence in their soldiers. The entire decision-making process was concentrated on Adolf Hitler. He distrusted his officers, the officers distrusted their non-commissioned officers, and they in turn distrusted their enlisted men. Quick decisions on the ground were then almost impossible.
Culin Hedgerow Cutter
Seeing pictures of a Sherman tank with creepy giant teeth on its front, while visiting the Utah Beach museum, showed another excellent example of initiative and innovation by a junior-ranked Soldier, who massively supported the Normandy landings with his innovation for hedgerow fighting. Sgt. Curtis Grubb Culin III came up with a four-pronged plow device created from scrap steel off German roadblocks. When attached to the front of his tank it was successful in rapidly plowing gaps into the hedgerows, making way for the Sherman tank to burst through.
Culin took what the Army taught him about initiative and saw an opportunity. Culin brought up his idea to his captain, then to the major, to the colonel, and it got high enough that somebody did something about it - and that was General Bradley – and he took action very quickly. As a result, just six weeks after D-Day, around 60% of the Shermans were equiped with the Culin cutter and thus saved lifes of many Soldiers. This is just one example of many, showcasing how supporting the innovation and initiative of individuals within the Army's forces, no matter what rank, proved successful across these battlefields.
American military cemetery
The team's visit to the American military cemetery at Omaha Beach and witnessing a flag ceremony, was sobering in tone. The cemetery sits on a cliff, on the Normandy coastline. Overlooking Omaha beach, there are about 10,000 white crosses lined up, all pointing toward America. It should be noted that the families of the fallen were asked at the time if their loved one should be transported back to the States. Two-thirds decided to do so. On 70 hectares of land, the cemetery is the final resting place of countless American Soldiers who gave their lives in the WWII during the first stage of the Normandy battles on June 6, 1944.
"In general, a Battlefield Ride is an extended visit of a battlefield and an opportunity to learn appropriate lessons from what happened," said USAG Wiesbaden Headquarters and Headquarters Company Commander, Cpt. Alexander Moore, who organized the staff ride.
The ride gave insight into the physical, emotional and intellectual challenges typical of combat situations. The ride also provided a format for understanding the human element of combat and the successes and failures of various military leaders when faced with specific dilemmas.
"It complements your knowledge base and makes us even more aware of how important it is for us as a garrison to support the Soldiers in the best possible way," said Dalvir Singh, an agreements manager with the Directorate of Resource Management, and one of the staff ride participants.