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January 2013

Bringing the Boardroom to the Battlefield

From @StaffRideGuy NEWSLETTER Marshall Foundation Develops Virtual Staff Ride for US Air Force (2009)

March 8, 2013

Foundation Develops Virtual Staff Ride for U.S. Air Force

George Marshall would embrace the virtual staff ride (VSR) developed at the Marshall Foundation. As an innovator in military tactics, he welcomed the use of new technologies such as the use of aircraft for battlefield observation in World War I.

The staff ride has been used by military forces for more than a century to examine terrain on which an actual battle has occurred. While changes in technology and corresponding changes in doctrine render some staff ride lessons obsolete, other lessons are timeless because they spring either from operational principles or from human characteristics such as the ability to assess terrain tactically, quickly,
almost intuitively.

The staff ride concept has been brought into the 21st century under the direction of Gen. Paul Gorman, USA (Ret.), a member of the Council of Advisors, and Paul Barron, director of library and archives. They have integrated computer technologies to produce the virtual staff ride concept springing from battles that Marshall planned in WWI under General Pershing that can be presented and received anywhere so long as the presenter and receiver have access to the Internet or are together in the classroom.

“It’s innovative. It’s unique,” said Barron. “The VSR is collaborative learning that employs techniques to elicit interaction among all participants. The goal is to use historic battles to teach those aspects of warfare that do not change over time, the influence of terrain on tactics, the uncertainties of war, and especially the role of the officer leader. Marshall would approve.”

Virtual Staff Rides provide the opportunity to leverage technology as a way to make terrain comprehensible to today's technology-literate students. The VSR brings the battlefield into the classroom for leadership development. It is centered on decisions made by yesterday's combat leaders to provide learning and decision-making experiences for leaders of tomorrow. VSRs draw on digital archives for maps, operational records, photographs and other textual and graphic materials to depict the terrain, events, and personalities of a historic battle.

Using Current Examples and Technologies

The Roberts Ridge virtual staff ride developed for the U.S. Air Force R.O.T.C. introduces many of the virtues of a traditional battlefield staff ride—an
appreciation of a complex tactical environment, the chaos of rapidly changing situations, the demands of leadership and decision-making—in a classroom.
Students will be encouraged to see through the eyes of the soldiers and airmen who fought for their lives atop the 11,000-foot peak of Takur Ghar in Afghanistan in March 2002.

The exercise is also a subtle, but thorough, lesson in modern air-land warfare. The Battle of Roberts Ridge was a 50-meter, direct-fire fight in combination with a global air-and-space-power network. The staff ride examines not only the amazing orchestration of precision technologies but also the impenetrable fog of war, striving to understand both what is unique and what is timeless.

To do so, the staff ride focuses intensely on a handful of key moments in the engagement. In each vignette, it employs a variety of media, including video interviews with the participants, terrain and flight simulations, situation maps and more to make the moment seem as vivid as possible. In addition to raising critical issues of air-land integration, it will concentrate on the decision-making of key leaders. Students will be asked not only to understand why certain choices were made but also why others were not and what might have been different if other
choices had been made. “We do not only want to make history come alive but to learn from it,” said Barron.

The staff ride can be readily tailored to the desires of the instructor or the needs of a class. Each vignette is rich with issues, both in regard to tactics and techniques of air and land forces and in regard to the challenges of battlefield leadership. It is also easily "scalable," from as brief a period as an hour to several hours. Most of all, the ride is designed to maximize student participation.

Even a traditional staff ride is, in essence, a virtual experience, pulling students mentally into the mind of the combatant, where decisions must be made in a timely way, with incomplete information, imperfect understanding and while in danger and under physical duress. “We have attempted to provide an R.O.T.C. instructor with the materials needed to lead students through an imaginative exercise,” he said.

“The implications for teaching are enormous. A subject area expert or military instructor in Washington, DC can present to an R.O.T.C. unit in Denver in real time,” said Barron. “We’ve given the military community a teaching tool and learning
experience for the 21st century.”

Geoerge C. Marshall Foundation Newletter Fall 2009


Quick Links

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