SEAC: THE BATTLE STAFF RIDE EXERCISE
THE BATTLE STAFF RIDE EXERCISE
The goal of the staff ride exercise (Robertson 1987) at Monroe’s Crossroads is to assess the action based on an analysis of the historical narrative and on-site observation against the principles of war as outlined in FM 100-5 (Operations). The principles of war were not set down in a training regulation until 1921. However, many of these concepts were developed during the Civil War. Most senior Union and Confederate commanders were graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. They were well versed in the art of war, as then practiced.
Technological innovations, such as the rifled-musket, required changes in tactics to meet the new situations. Dogmatic commanders tended to be replaced by those able to adapt to field conditions during the latter years of the war. Those present at Monroe’s Crossroads had learned their lessons well, but tired, saddle-weary, rain-soaked, combat-hardened veterans did make mistakes during the battle. These mistakes were paid for by their soldiers. The lessons of Monroe’s Crossroads, relative to the principles of war, require a careful assessment of the movements of the commands, deployment of troops, offensive action, defensive action, unit cohesion, and unit disintegration.
TENETS OF ARMY OPERATIONS
Whenever Army forces are called to fight, they fight to win. Army forces in combat seek to impose their will on the enemy. Victory is the objective, no matter what the mission. Nothing short of victory is acceptable. The fundamental tenets of Army operations doctrine describe the characteristics of successful operations. In and of themselves they do not guarantee victory, but their absence makes winning difficult and costly to achieve.
The tenets are:
DYNAMICS OF COMBAT POWER
Four primary elements combine to create combat power — the ability to fight.
The elements are:
PRINCIPLES OF WAR
Economy of Force:
Unity of Command:
RIDE PURPOSES AND OBJECTIVES
The staff ride is a versatile educational tool. In a general sense, its sole purpose is to further the professional development of U.S. Army leaders. Specifically, it may be designed to achieve one or more objectives, depending upon the needs of the students and the circumstances under which the staff ride is conducted. Some of these specific objectives are:
A carefully designed and implemented staff ride can attain simultaneously all of these objectives and more.
CONDUCTING A STAFF RIDE
The Instructor Team
The Instructor Team members are the central figures in the design and conduct of a successful staff ride. Although National Park Service rangers, licensed guides, and local historians may assist materially, they cannot be expected either to understand the particular educational focus of the exercise or to design a program with the U.S. Army’s needs in mind.
Instructor Team Requirements
STAFF RIDE PHASES
PHASE I — Preliminary Study
If the student has not been well prepared about the purpose of the exercise, the organizational and operational setting of the battle, and the significant events of the action, and if the student has not become intellectually involved in the process of study, then the exercise becomes more of a historical battlefield tour. The preliminary study phase is critical to the success of the field study phase.
The preliminary study phase may take various forms, depending on time available and student needs. The possible forms include formal classroom instruction, individual study or a combination of both.
The optimum preliminary study phase combines lecture, individual study, and group discussion. To get students more actively involved, instructors may assign specific subjects to be researched by small groups or individuals. These mini-experts are then available to brief, answer questions, and provide input during the field study phase. This is an excellent technique for ensuring student participation and group discussion. Various factors will affect subject assignments. However, appropriate subjects could include key personalities, specific units, critical events or a battlefield operating system.
In any form, the preliminary study phase must accomplish the following:
First: Ensure the students clearly understand the purpose and objectives of the exercise;
Second: Ensure the students become actively involved;
Third: Provide the basic knowledge to a general understanding of the battle to include:
Students must develop an intellectual perception of the battle that will be either reinforced or modified during the field study phase.
PHASE II — Field Study
The field study phase readily distinguishes the staff ride from other forms of systematic historical study. It culminates all previous efforts by instructors and students to understand selected historical events, to analyze the significance of those events, and to derive relevant lessons for professional development. If the preliminary study phase has been systematic and thorough, the field phase reinforces ideas already generated. The field study phase is the most effective way to stimulate the students’ intellectual involvement and ensure any conclusions reached during the staff ride process are retained.
PHASE III — The Integration Phase
No matter how detailed the preliminary study or how carefully crafted the field study, a truly successful staff ride requires a third and final phase. This integration phase is a formal or informal opportunity for the students to reflect on their experience.
Several positive effects stem from the integration phase. First, it requires students to analyze the previous phases and integrate what they learned in each into a coherent overall view. Second, it provides a mechanism through which students may organize and articulate their impressions of both the battle and the lessons they derived from its study. Third, students may gain additional insights from sharing these impressions with their peers. Finally, the instructor team may use the integration phase to solicit student comments on its performance and suggestions for improvement.
The integration phase may be conducted on the battlefield immediately following the field study phase or back in your unit area. However, the integration phase is most successful when it follows field study as closely as circumstances permit.
An instructor should moderate discussion. He should allot enough time for all who wish to speak and for a complete discussion of any issues raised.
Sources of Information
Primary sources are documents produced by participants or eyewitnesses. Included among primary sources are official documents such as after- action reports, orders, messages, strength reports, unit journals, letters, maps, diaries, and reminiscences.
Secondary sources are accounts of events produced by nonparticipants. Secondary sources are most often narrative in form and analytical in nature. Valuable as they are, secondary sources should not be the sole materials furnished to staff ride students.
Although professional military education is sufficient reason for devoting time and resources to a staff ride, certain secondary benefits may accrue as well. These benefits spring from the fact that, for many participants, a visit to a battlefield is an emotional experience that may reinforce their feelings for their profession, their units, and one another. If participants belong to the same unit, their shared experiences during the exercise may strengthen the camaraderie and esprit so necessary for unit cohesion. If promotions or individual achievement awards are due to be conferred at the time of the staff ride, there can be no better setting for the ceremony than a site hallowed by earlier deeds of sacrifice and valor.
The design and conduct of a staff ride is not a simple task. A staff ride requires subject matter expertise, intelligently applied in a systematic way, to guide professional soldiers through the most complex of intellectual exercises — the analysis of battle in all its dimensions.
If a terrain exercise is all that is required, a Tactical Exercise Without Troops (TEWT) can be constructed on any convenient piece of ground. Such terrain exercises are useful, but they are not a staff ride. If soldiers are to be taken to a battlefield of the past but there is little or no time for preliminary study, a historical battlefield tour is all that is required. Such tours also have their place, but they are not staff rides.
A staff ride yields far broader results than a TEWT or a battlefield tour, but is more difficult to devise. Those who want to conduct a staff ride must be aware of these difficulties. Carefully designed and intelligently executed, a staff ride is one of the most powerful instruments available for the professional development of the U.S. Army’s leaders.