Instead of learning about battle tactics in the classroom, junior officers in the University’s Army ROTC program visited the battlefield itself.
Lieutenant Colonels Allana Bryant and Wayne Dole took the senior class on a weekend trip to Gettysburg, Pa. to study the historic Battle of Gettysburg. The trip was part of an annual event called a staff ride.
The staff ride is an annual tradition in the Army ROTC in which junior and commanding officers travel to historic battlefields and study various tactics that were used in those battles. The trip aims to give cadets a better understanding of battle tactics, how to lead and how to deal with stressful situations.
The trip also gives cadets hands-on experience in decision-making and leadership that they normally would not experience in a more traditional setting.
“Classroom learning doesn’t really cut it when you’re out in the physical world,” said Engineering senior Matthew Blanchard, an Army ROTC cadet who served as cadet battalion commander last semester.
This was the first time the Army ROTC program traveled to Gettysburg for the staff ride. Blanchard said the ROTC program chose Gettysburg for its complex battlefield, intricate planning and the tactical decisions commanders had to make.
“It is one thing to read about the Battlefield of Gettysburg, or to watch a special on the History Channel, but there is an element that you just can’t pick up unless you are there witnessing it yourself,” wrote Engineering senior Michael Konieczny, an Army ROTC cadet, in an e-mail interview.
Once at Gettysburg, each cadet was assigned to a specific battlefield and asked to analyze its terrain as well as present various facts and stories about it to the rest of the group.
The battlefields the cadets visited were Devil’s Den, Triangle Field, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, Peach Orchard and Culp’s Hill.
Cadets also participated in group discussions and practiced devising their own battle tactics after analyzing their chosen battlefields.
Konieczny wrote that he was assigned to analyze Devil’s Den, where Union and Confederate soldiers fought during the second day of the battle. His battle tactics consisted of providing the other cadets with information about both their own forces and the hostile forces, leading them to the starting point of the battle, commanding them to formulate a plan and to adjust the plan whenever needed.
“The whole purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate how rapidly and unpredictably a battle can change from the commander’s initial assessment,” Konieczny wrote.
Cadets also visited the monument of Colonel Charles Frederick Taylor, a former University student who was commander of the Union Army’s First Rifle “Bucktails.” LSA senior Hari Vutukuru, another Army ROTC cadet, presented facts and stories about Taylor to the cadets.
“While our generation spends their twenties working or attending college, just starting to figure things out and to put our lives together, this man was responsible for the lives and welfare of hundreds of men in one of the most pivotal moments in American history,” Konieczny wrote.
Blanchard wrote that the staff ride was valuable to the ROTC program because cadets sometimes miss certain concepts when reading about a battlefield in a classroom setting. He added that visiting the battlefield is invaluable to their learning experience.
“Actually standing on the battlefield was a very emotional experience. To stand in the same place that so many thousands of men fought and died, the same place that the course of our nation’s history was forever changed, was indescribable,” Konieczny wrote.