War College Students along for the (Staff) Ride

By Allen, Col Charles D. | Army, August 2017 | Go to article overview

War College Students along for the (Staff) Ride


Allen, Col Charles D., Army


Students at the U.S. Army War College must develop frames of reference in preparation for their roles as strategic leaders. Apart from the traditional curriculum of core and elective courses with volumes of reading material, lectures from prominent leaders and scholars, and group-based experiential exercises, one way to do that is the staff" ride.

Introduced in 1906 by Maj. Eben Swift at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., with 12 officerstudents of the General Service and Staff School, now known as the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the staff ride calls for active participation by faculty and students. Staff ride participants role-play key leaders and staff officers, think through historical decisions and actions, and reflect on consequences as they stand on the same ground where battles were fought. This education method has been adopted and adapted by the War College.

Most like the standard of old is the daylong Gettysburg Staff Ride. The stage is set with the strategic perspective of political and military leaders from opposing sides of the American Civil War. Students learn that the Battle of Gettysburg was a tactical engagement that resulted from an operational campaign to support the strategic choices of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Focus on Human Dimension

While the tactical organizations and maneuvers on the battlefield may be of interest to some, our focus is on the human dimension of war. Students delve into the relationships among the Union and Confederate leaders, decision-making under uncertainty with the fog and friction of war, building and leading teams, and operating under commander's intent/ Mission Command. Closing the staff ride with President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address at Gettysburg National Cemetery, students learn how a leader can take the results of a tactical event and reframe the strategic direction of a nation.

Following the core curriculum courses on national policy and strategy formulation, and strategic leadership, the second "strategic" staff" ride is a 2%-day visit to New York City. The purpose of this staff" ride is to "strengthen ... understanding of national security and strategy through interaction with key organizations and institutions that significantly influence it," War College communications say.

Accordingly, War College students are divided into three dozen small groups to visit with varied organizations and activities-city government, corporate, education and media as well as international venues (the United Nations and country missions). They, along with their foreign military officer classmates, experience the kaleidoscope of U.S. culture in an iconic American city. They observe what it takes to lead and manage large complex organizations, which may interface at civic, state, regional, national and global levels.

And given that the U.S. military is often isolated from the society it serves, it is important for our students to acknowledge that the strength of the nation is largely drawn from the talent of its people who serve in many sectors of society and the economic power that is clearly on display in New York City. By design, the staff" ride provides an exposure to the other instruments of national power-diplomatic, informational and economic-beyond the military.

Engaging With U.S. Government

The last strategic staff ride comes near the close of the academic year. As with the New York trip, this event is a 2Viday visit to Washington, D.C. Students are assigned to small groups to visit with organizations and activities in our nation's capital. …

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