YOUNGSTOWN AIR RESERVE STATION, Ohio --
It has been 154 years since the Battle of Gettysburg took place in the fields, foothills and streets in and around this small town; however, the passage of time has not quelled the desire of countless streams of people to visit this hallowed ground. Many of these people come searching for a better understanding of what happened here so many years ago.
A small group of such people assigned to the Air Force Reserve’s 910th Airlift Wing traveled from Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, June 30 – July 2, to Gettysburg National Military Park, seeking knowledge that perhaps only the ghosts of the past can impart. The 31 officers and enlisted personnel were participating in a staff ride, a practice started by the U.S. Army in 1906 to help provide practical studies into tactics, leadership, communication and terrain. This staff ride was designed primarily to show examples of leadership that took place during the three-day Civil War battle in 1863.
According to the National Park Service website, the battle was a turning point in the Civil War that ended the Confederacy’s most ambitious invasion of the North. The site also noted Gettysburg, often referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Rebellion,” was the Civil War’s bloodiest battle and was also the inspiration for President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal “Gettysburg Address.”
Col. Donald Wren, 910th Mission Support Group commander, organized the 910th’s trip and led the group across many parts of the famed site. During the first stop on the battlefield, one of many that would take place over the three-day journey, he summed up the purpose of the time-travelling odyssey.
“I can’t teach you leadership. I can’t make you walk away from here and learn something,” Wren said. “I can share examples of leadership, both good and not so good, that happened here during the battle. It is up to you to take what you will away from this.”
Wren also said the staff ride was a way to add to the military educational experience and to put in place the human side or historical perspectives and events.
The 910th’s stops at sites across the battlefield followed the conflict between Union and Confederate troops chronologically, starting with the initially contact on July 1, 1863 through the conclusion of the fighting on July 3, 1863. Accounts of orders issued and actions and reactions by noted military leaders of the day including Gen. Robert E. Lee, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade and many more were related by Wren, a veteran of more than 15 visits to Gettysburg, and three additional highly experienced guides.
From the outset of the journey, Wren emphasized his belief that the art of leadership can’t be learned from a book or seminar; however, he felt it could be learned through synthesizing one’s own experience with behaviors demonstrated by others considered and accept to be leaders. He noted he believes there are innate leadership qualities in everyone, but these qualities have to be understood to be effective.
“Gettysburg is ripe for teaching us leadership through critical analysis of decisions made during the crisis and applying that learning and understanding to our own style and methods,” Wren said.
He said he hoped the staff ride participants would identify with at least one of the battle’s key figures and use the connection to develop their own style of leadership. Wren also said he hoped the group learned something not only about history but about themselves from the trip.
910th Airlift Wing commander, Col. Dan. Sarachene, paraphrased the words of Lincoln’s Nov. 19, 1863 speech to sum up what he hopes the Citizen Airmen under his command learned from the experience.
“We will little note nor long remember what we said here,” Sarachene said. “But we can never forget what they did here.”