Reading history books and learning about World War II battles can be an excellent way to learn how past conflicts can influence future combat situations. For Soldiers of the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, however, a rare chance to journey to The Netherlands from July 9 to 12 proved an even more ideal opportunity to combine their historical knowledge with everyday reality.
“If you want to learn a new idea, read an old book,” said U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Darrin Jefferies, the command sergeant major for the 10th AAMDC, who was among the approximately 20 staff ride participants.
Jefferies and other Soldiers from the 10th AAMDC, along with a few select Airmen and Sailors, had travelled to the Nijmegen-Arnhem area of the Netherlands to learn more about Operation Market Garden, the largest airborne operation of World War II. That Allied operation in September 1944 was intended to capture several key bridges in the area, which would hopefully enable the Allies to leapfrog the Rhine River and push into Germany, perhaps bringing the war to an early end. The operation failed to meet its main objective, with heavy loss of life and extension of the war by eight months as the result.
The staff ride, however, was more than a history lesson about some World War II events that happened long before any of the participants were even born. It was a series of lectures, discussions and analysis that may one day help channel past mistakes into future battlefield successes.
“There is no substitute for practical application,” said Jefferies, who along with the 10th AAMDC commander, U.S. Army Col. Stephen Richmond, stressed the continued importance of training fundamentals regardless of changes in
doctrine or equipment.
“Technology is great, but marksmanship, land navigation, and physical and mental readiness can never be neglected,” Richmond said.
While the participants did benefit through regular lectures from historian Dr. John Nolan, who accompanied them on the trip, regular involvement by all defined the discussions. And as far as Nolan was concerned, that’s simply how it has to be.
“What makes it a great ride is active participation,” he said.
Topics pertaining to the Operation Market Garden battles were assigned to staff ride participants beforehand, and at the appropriate location or time participants briefed all present with the fruits of their research. Items briefed covered everything from Allied and German leaders involved, to the units that fought in the battles and their weaponry.
For U.S. Army Spc. James Earl, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 5-7 Air Defense Artillery and winner of the Soldier of the Year competition, the trip had far more value than just a chance to increase his knowledge about World War II or improve his public speaking through briefing his fellow Soldiers.
“The most important lesson I took away from this is to never give up. Things constantly change on the battlefield and as U.S. Soldiers we must be able to overcome any obstacle we encounter to accomplish our mission,” Earl said.
Richmond also cited the many secondary benefits of the staff ride that stretched far beyond the wealth of new World War II knowledge and team building. Far more important, he felt, were the lessons for Soldiers in the present and future that can be gleaned from the Operation Market Garden failures.
“Taking care of Soldiers starts with the first line supervisor and works its way up the chain of command,” said Richmond, adding that the best weapon in today’s Army is the volunteer Soldiers who still do everything asked of them after more than 10 years of persistent conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We need to take care of that asset (Soldiers) to ensure success,” he said.
Nolan agreed, reminding everyone that throughout the history of warfare and especially Operation Market Garden, battlefield success has often depended on the lowest man on the leadership chain, regardless of rank.
“You look first to the guys on the bottom to see what went right,” he said.
And though the operation may have failed in 1944, the staff ride participants felt many good seeds were planted for the future. Whether Soldiers and the Army continue to nurture and harvest the resulting knowledge from Operation Market Garden is unknown. But as far as Richmond is concerned, one of its most important lessons still has as much relevance today as it did in World War II.
“I would never sell our Soldiers short on what they’re capable of doing when faced with a complex problem,” he said.