NIJMEGEN, Netherlands--Paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne
Brigade jumped in to Ginkelse Heide Drop Zone here May 20 in order
to begin a staff ride in and around the places where World War II's
Operation Market Garden occurred.
A staff ride is an on-site
tool that the Army uses to teach leaders about historical battles in
a modern context.
"Our leaders were able to get together,
learn about the historical event and apply it to our lives here and
now," said Capt. Hugo Manzo, a brigade operations officer and the
planner of the event.
Operation Market Garden was fought in
1944 in the Netherlands (and parts of Germany) to capture and
control strategically-positioned bridges in order to advance Allied
troops up to and around the German lines. Involving some 35,000
airborne troops from the United States, United Kingdom and Poland,
it was the largest combat jump of it's time.
Col. Michael Foster, commander, 173rd Airborne Brigade, speaks to
other paratroopers during an Operation Market Garden staff ride near
Veghel, Netherlands on May 21, 2014.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. A.M. LaVey)
Prior to the jump into the Netherlands, leaders from each
of the brigade's battalions studied a certain part of the
battle to deliver it to their peers at each of the
locations, including Nijmegen, Eindhoven, Arnhem, Grave and
"We did a lot of research," said Capt. Andrew
J. Michael, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop,
1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment. "The best way to
prepare for a staff ride is to get information from
first-person accounts - so we scoured books, videos and
other sources to see what these Soldiers were thinking
before and after the battle.
With the brigade
forwardly-positioned in Europe, visiting a European
battlefield was a unique benefit for the American
paratroopers. The first morning after arriving in Nijmegen,
the paratroopers took to the streets, running across the
Waal Bridge, where during the war, Dutch combat engineering
units blew up the bridge to stop the German army's advance.
They also ran to other spots in the city, including the spot
where troops forded the river in canvas boat - stopping for
a historical discussion at each site to visit discuss the
"It's a phenomenal opportunity - we don't get
opportunities like this very often," said Lt. Col. Jon P.
Beale, commander, 173rd Brigade Support Battalion. "The
number one benefit for the officers and [noncommissioned
officers] who attended the staff ride was building their
understanding of the European environment; it helps to
achieve a shared understanding of our NATO allies here."
After Nijmegen, the assembled troops traveled to
Arnhem's John Frost Bridge - named after the commander of
the British 1st Airborne Division who were tasked with
defending the bridge during the Battle of Arnhem, to discuss
Allied and German leaders and what parts they allied played
in the operation.
While many have studied the battle
in a classroom setting or seen movies like "A Bridge Too
Far," for the paratroopers of the 173rd, seeing history in
front of them proved to be beneficial.
how much better it all comes to life when you see it and
walk the ground - rather than just reading about it," said
Beale. "I've gained a better understanding and appreciation
for what our forefathers dealt with as they were trying to
win the Second World War."
A key element of a staff
ride is seeing the context on the battlefield that drove a
leader to a particular decision, and then using that as a
reference point for future decisions that may occur in other
"Leaders should capitalize on events like
this," said Capt. Mike Morner, commander, Company F, 2nd
Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. "We need to look at ever
single nuance of information, get the historical facts - see
what went wrong and what went right. If they failed - why
did they fail? When you learn these lessons they are with
When the leaders visited the John S.
Thompson Bridge at Grave, where the young lieutenant and his
paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division secured a
bridge across the Maas river and the Zuid-Willemsvaart Canal
Bridge at Veghel, where the army rapidly built a pontoon
bridge strong enough to support armor units crossing, they
spoke of the signal, logistical and engineering challenges
that the operation faced and how each contributed to the
mission's successes and failures. While many of the
objectives of the mission were completed, the operation is
generally thought to have been a failure.
learning shouldn't end when the event does.
staff ride, go back and reread all the materials and new
things will jump out at you," said Col. Michael Foster, the
brigade commander. "It helps to put things into context and
understand the story more - it all crystalizes after coming
out and seeing it."
Staff rides are a form of
hands-on leader development, combining individual and team
study with group participation.
takes all forms," said Beale. "Over the last 13 years, most
of our leaders have grown and gained experience in combat,
but haven't gotten the depth of understanding when it comes
to the historical contexts of war."
While staff ride
opportunities may not be a common event, they are
recommended as a learning tool.
"There are many ways
to learn from staff rides," said Foster. "You can have
people play different units or staff elements, you can brief
at each location - looking at maps to see who has the
advantage and who doesn't, but the most important thing is
taking the time to do it."
The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, is the
Army's Contingency Response Force in Europe, and is capable of
projecting forces to conduct a full range of military operations
across the United States European, Central and Africa Commands of
By U.S. Army Sgt. A.M. LaVey
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