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The Staff Ride

A Staff Ride is a systematic analysis of the site of a battle or other engagement, ordinarily undertaken by members of armed forces for the purpose of learning about the impact of geography, weather and other physical influences on those events as well as using the location as a source of inspiration. Often the focus is on leadership lessons that can be applied to the future.

Colonel (Ret) Johnson, staff ride leader, in Revolutionary attire during the prep session.

Staff Rides were originally used by the German Army in the late 1800’s to train their General Staff officers.  They studied the battles from the Napoleonic Wars to better understand what happened, why it happened, and what could be learned and applied to the future.

Large maps, complete with battle figurines, were used during the staff ride prep session.

In the summer of 1906, the assistant commandant of the General Service and Staff School, MAJ Eben Swift, and twelve officer-students at Fort Leavenworth boarded a train for Georgia. So began the first “staff ride” for instructors and students at what is now the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

Monmouth Battlefield State Park historian, Dr. Garry Wheeler Stone goes over the main points of the battle at the education center.

After a long interruption that began in World War II, staff riding slowly began to be rejuvenated in the U.S. Army in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Overlooking the battlefield from the education center

Staff Rides can be conducted anywhere a battle occurred.  The United States, Europe, Asia – and it does not always need to be for U.S. military members or Department of Defense civilians.  They are also used by other government agencies and the private sector to learn from history.  Dr. Steve Carney from the US Army Center of Military History remarked that he once did a staff ride at “Bladensburg as the British march north out of Washington DC… for some British officers whose regiment fought there.”

Monmouth courthouse with Lady Triumphant statue in front, Freehold, New Jersey.

The beauty of a staff ride is that they can be tailored to the needs of the organization.  CECOM went on a staff ride to Monmouth Battlefield last spring.  Clarity of mission and clear and concise communications are the key lessons often highlighted during staff rides of Monmouth Battlefield.

A mass grave marker indicates both British and Americans are buried here.

These command and control themes are relevant to CECOM today if we are to be the Army’s premier Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities provider, all while executing a transition to APG that is transparent to the Warfighter.

Staff ride participants examine a Memorial grave stone to British soldiers.

A staff ride requires subject-matter expertise, intelligently applied in a systematic way, to guide participants through the most complex of intellectual exercises–the analysis of battle in all its dimensions.

A plaque at Tennent Church describes the battle. The church was used as a field hospital during the battle.

The object is not to produce professional scholars but to use historical case study to enhance the professional military education of U.S. Army officers. The optimum preliminary study phase combines lecture, individual study, and group discussion moderated by the instructor team.

Note: All images in this entry are from the CECOM Staff Ride to the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, Spring 2010.  Command Historian Melissa Ziobro and Staff Historian Chrissie Reilly took the photos; all are US Army file photos.

Posted in History Happenings, History Outreach.

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