GREENSBORO, North Carolina — In the early North Carolina morning, Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene surveyed the terrain and identified the elevated ground that overlooks a large field straddling both sides of Salisbury Road. He determined that it was the most defensible position, and where he would make his stand against Lord Cornwallis and his British forces.
Two hundred and forty-three years later, Lt. Col. John Herrman, commander, 3rd Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment, 18th Field Artillery Brigade, stands with his battalion leadership, surveying the same ground as part of a battalion staff ride.
The battalion staff ride is part of the battalion commander’s Leadership Development Program and included both officers and senior noncommissioned officers in the battalion.
"The staff ride is an effective tool to learn and reinforce the lessons of our doctrine," said Herrman. "In this case, I am focused on the tenants of mission command that I am instilling in my leaders."
Research indicates that staff rides originated as a way for German Gen. Helmuth von Moltke to train general staff officers in the mid-19th century. The training method appeared in the United States military in 1906, when the General Service and Staff School sent a group of 12 students to study the Civil War battle of Chickamauga, in Tennessee and Georgia. Since that time, units have used staff rides to enhance professional development.
The leaders in 3rd Bn., 321st FAR conducted the staff ride in two phases. The initial phase consisted of a preliminary study. During this portion, leaders studied not only the battle itself, but also the events that led to the Revolutionary War. This included key battles during the early part of the war, more specifically leading up to the Southern Campaign of 1779 to 1781. The leaders met over several leadership professional development sessions to discuss and present their findings.
The second phase of the staff ride was the field study portion. To facilitate this phase, the 3rd Bn., 321st FAR coordinated with the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, who provided study guides and maps of the battle. The battalion leaders broke into four-man teams that included both NCOs and officers. Each team received a significant battle event to brief to the battalion.
"The integration of noncommissioned officers and officers on the staff ride was a distinctive way to allow the collaboration and combination of different experiences and training to provide discussion and analysis of the significant battles," said 1st Sgt. Siamrath Kumnog, first sergeant for Battery B, 3rd Bn., 321st FAR.
The leaders walked the battlefield with each team presenting their significant event or stage. To do so, each team had to set the stage, orient to key terrain, and then guide the leaders through a discussion of the actions at each position. They finished the discussion by presenting questions to other leaders to help spark a deeper understanding of the events. Leaders were able to visualize formations and actions taken by both British and American forces by walking the terrain upon which Greene and his Army once fought. Furthermore, leaders spoke about Greene’s ability to conduct the military decision-making process on the battlefield. Officers and NCOs were able to relate his decisions with modern day issues that leaders face in garrison and in combat.
"The event has been a great medium to reinforce doctrinal fundamentals that my command sergeant major, Command Sergeant Major Martin Conroy, and I have been focused on," said Herrman. "Battalion leaders were able to see how Greene and his Army adapted to the environment and the enemy, practicing disciplined initiative.