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January 2013

Bringing the Boardroom to the Battlefield

From @StaffRideGuy NEWSLETTER @TRADOC's Initial Operation Iraqi Freedom Staff Rides, 2005

April 26, 2013

Virtual staff ride: traveling thousands of miles via a classroom

By Robby Kennedy/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (TRADOC News Service, Aug. 12, 2005) – Students at the Command and General Staff College will have the chance to travel thousands of miles to study the battlefields of Iraq this upcoming school year – without ever setting foot beyond a classroom.

The Operation Iraqi Freedom Virtual Staff Ride, developed by Fort Leavenworth’s Combat Studies Institute, uses a combination of satellite imagery and digitally built environments to transplant students onto actual Iraqi battlefields for a first-hand look at the OIF campaign.

“A staff ride is a detailed examination of a battle or campaign,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Gudmens, CSI staff-ride team chief. “It’s one of those rare classes where you get to really look at one spot in history and analyze it.”

Staff rides are built on the idea that being at an actual location – seeing the terrain and understanding the context – allows students to better comprehend what happened and why in a specific battle or event.

“You can go to the battlefield and you can sit there and get in the commander’s head,” Gudmens said. “You are on the same piece of ground – the commander made the decision right here. Right or wrong? What’s the importance?”

While CSI has been doing staff rides for years, taking students to battlefields like Gettysburg, Little Big Horn and Chickamauga, the OIF virtual ride is unique in that it provides access to battlefields that are presently inaccessible.

“Our staff ride is done just like every other staff ride we do. The only difference here is, just because we can’t physically go to Iraq, we do it here with the virtual piece,” said Maj. Kevin Kennedy, CSI staff ride facilitator.

“The students will see the actual terrain, and it’s as close as we can get without having the bad guys shooting at us,” Gudmens said.

Another unique aspect of the virtual course is that its source material comes straight from field commanders who participated in OIF, providing living, breathing accounts of what took place.

“What we did was interview primary sources such as the leaders who participated in the campaign,” Kennedy said. “One of the differences now vs. a campaign in 1863 is that the guys who led OIF are still alive for interviews, and we can get primary source information literally from the horse’s mouth.”

The graphic developers of the OIF Virtual Staff Ride built the virtual Iraq with painstaking attention to detail and faithfulness to accuracy. Digital battlefields are identical to their corporeal counterparts, right down to the vegetation – fidelity that helps the students feel like they are actually there.

“This really lets you see what it looks like for the guys on the ground. It’s the same thing we try to do any time we go out on a regular staff ride,” Kennedy said. “It gives us a good appreciation for what the terrain was like, what the nature of the fight was like ... much better than what we could ever do just by flashing a map.”

Students in the OIF Virtual Staff Ride course can follow the path of the 3rd Infantry Division all the way from Kuwait to Baghdad, or the route of the ill-fated 507th Maintenance Company ambushed near An Nasiriyah March 23, 2003.

“(Students can see) the spot where the 507th Maintenance Company got ambushed ... this is one of the stops we use to talk about what happened in the campaign,” Kennedy said. “We aren’t just looking at mistakes, though, because there were a lot of great things that happened you want to sustain and build upon. There were a lot of lessons that came out of OIF because adaptive, innovative thinkers were able to overcome challenges.”

The virtual staff ride launched its pilot course last year at CGSC, and Kennedy said the feedback from the students was overwhelmingly positive.

“We got comments saying this was the best course they took at CGSC to help them prepare for future deployments,” Kennedy said.

In addition to providing the OIF staff ride to CGSC students, Kennedy said the course will eventually expand beyond Fort Leavenworth.

“We’re also developing a portable project to take this show on the road as we get requests,” he said. “We do staff rides for the entire Army, and that is what is in the future for the OIF Virtual Staff Ride.”


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