I returned yesterday from a week-long trip away from the day job. I had a chance to visit friends, led a staff ride the first part of the week, and finished up with some research at the park library for two days.
First, a word about the staff ride. The unit was the 160th Special Ops Aviation Regiment out of Fort Campbell. These are the guys who support Delta, the Rangers, etc. Think “Blackhawk Down.” They are not Civil War experts, nor is leading a staff ride identical to leading a tour for a round table or the like. Here, we spent less time on the overall course of the battle and focused on leadership issues.
Chickamauga, of course, has a number of critical moments for leaders. Orders don’t get followed, or do, and disaster results. Generals leave the field, sometimes having to make rapid decisions without guidance from above. Careers are ruined, and troops pay with their lives. All of this means that the field raises meaningful leadership issues for modern soldiers as well as giving us a great sense of history.
The officers involved were impressive folks, from the regimental commander on down (this was a group of mostly Majors, Bn and Company commanders.) They were attentive, grasped issues quickly, and of course, had real-world combat experience to bring to bear as well.
Staff rides also allow us to use the field for one of its original purposes. The parks were created not just to memorialize the dead and recognize great deeds. They were originally created as field laboratories to train officers, which is one reason they were initially administered by the War Department.
We spent a day and a half on the field, and the evenings in Chattanooga. There I learned that I was partying out of my weight class with these guys. As much fun as I had every evening talking to them, I had slip back to the hotel early lest I be unable to utter a coherent sentence the next day. Of course, they are all about 10-15 years younger than me, so I have my excuse…