By Sgt. Charlene Moler (101st Airborne)October 11, 2012
DOVER, Tenn. -- There are very few things that remain constant throughout the evolution of combat and the military. Officers and senior enlisted from 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), participated in a staff ride to the Fort Donelson Battlefield Sept. 28 to learn the principles of leadership during the Civil War still hold true today.
The concept of a staff ride is to learn from historical battles by understanding what happened, the reason for the outcome of the battle and how those lessons can be applied in present conflicts.
"Technology changes, but military items like leadership and command decisions, never change," said Greg Biggs, a military historian leading the Fort Donelson staff ride. "So what the Army started doing in the early 20th century is the staff ride concept. They use staff rides now to teach leadership principles."
Understanding the conditions in which past battles were fought, the limitations the Soldiers faced and how it affected the decisions that were made, clearly shows the cause and effect in victory or loss.
In the civil war you had single shot muskets, single shot cannons, today everything is automatic, said Biggs.
"You can go back and look at Caesar verses the Gauls, and the leadership principles of Julius Caesar carry forward to today," said Biggs. "The speed is so much quicker, instant communications, but the leadership principles never change. Learning from military history makes you a better officer I would think."
With remnants of the battles still visible, staff rides bring history to life, on the very ground where these historic battles happened.
"One of the focuses I have been trying to get with the battalion is to start doing some of the things we used to do before we were deploying back to back," said Maj. Sean Brown, executive officer for 1st Btn., 502nd Inf. Reg. "One of those exercises we used to do in the Army was called staff ride. I wanted to make it interesting so we looked for a campaign, a battle that had a significant naval component so we could see how the Navy integrated with the land maneuver."
The ride started with a 5.3 mile canoe ride on Tennessee's Cumberland River to understand how the waterway played a significant role in the battles. Leaders were able to see the advantages and challenged faced at Ft. Donelson, which sits on the bank of the river. Once exiting the river, the staff ride continued to various sites surrounding the post and learned about the land progression of the battle.
"One of the things I noticed today as we were going over some of the timelines, some of the orders got fouled due to how quick they were issued," said Brown. "They issued some of the orders for the next day the night prior and they didn't have the benefit of radios or even telegraph for most of these. Yet they were doing complex maneuvers and given very little time to plan for them or execute them."
With the advancements of today's military it may not seem like leaders can apply much from what they learn about military conflicts that occurred 150 years ago. However, there are simply some things in combat that do not change.
"In today's Army we would tend to balk at executing something the very next day, the very next morning, without time to appropriately plan," said Brown. "There are just some beneficial lessons learned, in this particular battle, whether to go on the defense or assume a defensive posture versus go on the offense and completely change the outcome of the day."