August 2016 Gettysburg Staff Ride
The leaders of the Corps of Cadets conducted a staff ride to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania Aug. 19-21. A truly collaborative event between the Brigade Tactical Department, the senior Cadet Chain of Command, the Department of History and the Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic, the staff ride served as an opportunity for the first semester cadet leadership to build and strengthen their team.
All company commanders, first sergeants, and higher level leaders attended the staff ride. As the first semester Chain of Command, the cadet leaders had the opportunity to reflect and team-build through a close examination of the leadership, valor and decision-making of the Battle of Gettysburg. For many cadets, this was their first time visiting the battlefield. This made the experience especially inspirational and unique.
In order to prepare to lead their teams on the staff ride, battalion-level and higher leaders received pre-briefs earlier in the week. Ultimately, the cadet-led discussions applied the principles of Mission Command to the enduring truths gathered from the Battle of Gettysburg in order to foster a greater appreciation of how to lead the Corps of Cadets.
The staff ride departed on Friday afternoon, arriving at Gettysburg in the evening. A team-building dinner followed, when First Captain Hugh McConnell took time to address the group. McConnell set the climate for the days to follow by providing context of the purpose of the staff ride.
On Saturday, an early wakeup preceded the all-day staff ride. The first stop was the Pennsylvania Memorial. Thanks to clear skies and high visibility, a climb to the top of the monument offered an exceptional view of the entire battlefield. Among the 10 locations the cadets visited, they were especially inspired by Maj. Gen. John Buford’s defense of McPherson’s Ridge, Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s bayonet charge at Little Round Top, and finally Cemetery Hill, the final resting place of thousands of heroic Soldiers. At the Copse of Trees, the Cadets took time to walk the route of “Pickett’s Charge,” an almost mile-long trek through the hilly countryside of Gettysburg. This allowed them to truly reflect on the hardships of the battle, and discuss how trust and shared understanding were pivotal to the Union victory. Saturday evening included another team-building dinner, along with after action reviews that provided another opportunity to reflect and internalize the events of July 1863.
Sunday morning began with a three-mile run, culminating with an ascent to the top of Little Round Top. As the morning sun rose over the field of battle, the cadets were humbled by the incredible actions that took place on the same path they trod. As they all arrived atop the hill, the somber environment fostered deep reflection on the importance of the battle and the lessons that remain important even today. Before departing Gettysburg later in the day, the Cadets took one last time to create shared understanding by discussing the goals and tasks crucial to a successful first semester.
The following senior leaders addressed the cadets throughout the weekend, providing a wealth of knowledge and experience that solidified the lessons learned on the battlefield: USMA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., USMA Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Guden, USCC Commandant Brig. Gen. Diana Holland, USCC Command Sgt. Maj. Dawn Rippelmeyer and retired Gen. Fredrick Franks, the Class of 1966 Chair for the Professional Military Ethic.