The senior staff officers, noncommissioned officers and civilians of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command didn’t let the nippy winter weather ruin their staff ride to study crucial World War II battle sites along the Belgian and German border
Dec. 7 to 10.
Forty members from the 21st TSC spent four days aboard a chartered bus exploring and analyzing the battle sites of the Huertgen Forest Campaign, Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge.
The ride was designed to build teamwork and cultural awareness by examining both the American and German perspectives. Therefore, discussion was not limited to the strategic aspects of the operations, but also focused on how commanders on both sides planned, prepared, staged and sustained their units during those battles. Furthermore, group members compared and contrasted capabilities available during World War II with present day resources.
Discussions of the soldiering perspective were led by the command sergeants major. Additionally, different members of the staff ride group served as discussion leaders at each battleground (stand) visited. Some even assumed the identity of key U.S. and German leaders of the highlighted battles to provide in depth analysis.
These role players truly displayed their acting ability at the stands and during the evening seminars. Several portrayed Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gen. Omar N. Bradley, Gen. Courtney H. Hodges and Maj. Gen. Norman “Dutch” Cota, while others portrayed German leaders such as Gen. Josef “Sepp” Dietrich and Gen. Hasso-Eccard von Manteuffel.
They all threw themselves into character using first person references and were able to articulate these leaders’ decisions, which significantly lent to the realism of the discussion.
The snow and freezing temperatures provided another element of realism. All agreed the weather conditions brought to life the circumstances under which tens of thousands of World War II Soldiers fought.
“The weather during the staff ride was cold, foggy and snowy and provided us an opportunity to understand, although only briefly, some of the battlefield conditions that our great Soldiers endured during the battles we studied,” said Lt. Col. Tom Hays, chief of Operations Research and Systems Analysis for the 21st TSC. “Understanding those conditions provides much-needed context to gain an appreciation for the hardships and how commanders on both sides assessed and made decisions that were crucial to the outcomes.”
At Aachen, the breaching of the Siegfried Line was the topic of discussion. Two historians accompanied the group and provided vital information about each battleground and referenced the historical military leaders making the decisions leading to these battles.
One independent historian and tour guide, Dr. Scott Wheeler, provided the U.S. perspective while Dr. Andrew Morris, the U.S. Army Europe historian, presented the German stance before the discussion was turned over to the group. Dr. Morris said that since the Germans played an equal role in the war, examining their problems and solutions and showing their point of view was a very important part of understanding the big picture.
The day ended with a retreat ceremony at the Henri-Chapelle American Memorial Cemetery. All the command sergeants major took part in the lowering and folding of the flag. Command Sgt. Maj. James Spencer, the 21st TSC command sergeant major, presented the flag to Maj. Gen. Patricia McQuistion, the 21st TSC commanding general, who then presented it to cemetery director Caroline Oliver.
Next, the group visited six stands, familiarizing themselves with the Huertgen Forest battle area. The most significant event during this tour was the walk down the Kall Gorge Trail leading to Kommerscheidt. Although the snow fell relentlessly, the group continued on to the last of the stands to discuss the 28th Infantry Division’s Battle of Schmidt. The day ended with a dinner seminar discussing the Battle of the Bulge as a precursor for the next excursions. Some of the topics included Allied operational considerations, logistical considerations and Allied intelligence beliefs all centered on the fall of 1944.
Col. Ron Green, commander of the 405th Army Field Support Brigade, compared current U.S. combat circumstances with those during World War II.
“The magnitude of sacrifice was quite overwhelming. We asked so much of the ‘greatest generation’ and you rarely, if ever, hear them complain in any of the historical documents or in later life accounts,” he said. “When we compare how good we have it deployed now, having access to many morale, welfare, life support agencies and extras like Burger King and the post exchanges, it’s simply amazing to realize just how much our predecessors gave in selfless sacrifice.”
As the snow continued to fall, so did the senior leaders to the next stand where they gained new insight and appreciation for actions taken during these battles.
In Belgium, they visited Lanzerath, Dom Buetgenbach and Huenningen. There, the group discussed the Battle of the Bulge, the North Shoulder and the Battle of St. Vith. The group began hearing the German perspective, as several of the leaders assumed the role of key German leaders.
Fortunately, one of these role players happened to be a German civilian who is one of the brigade-level leaders for the 21st TSC. Helmut Haufe, the general manager for the Theater Logistics Support Center-Europe, said the staff ride was going to have a very lasting impression on him.
“The fact that I could do this staff ride with the American military and civilians when one generation back we still fought each other — my dad on the German side and the dads of other participants were on the American side — it’s amazing what history can do in a very short time,” he said.
As the staff ride ended, the group made its way through Dasburg, Germany; Hosingen, Luxembourg; and Noville, Belgium, analyzing battles of the 5th Panzer Army assault against the 28th Inf. Div. and Task Force Rose and the 2nd Panzer Div. westward advance. The day culminated with a visit to the Mardasson Memorial in Bastogne, which honors the memory of the 76,890 American Soldiers who were wounded or killed during the Battle of the Bulge.
The leaders made their way through the memorial and found the names of the contemporary 48 U.S. states and the insignia of most participating battalions on the walls symbolic of the many lost in the Battle of the Bulge.
“It was a very sobering experience,” said Lt. Col. Dave Clevenger, the 21st TSC comptroller. “When I think of the magnitude of loss experienced by both the U.S., its Allies and the Germans, it really makes me appreciate the progress made since World War II.”
As the leaders shook off the snow and boarded the bus to return home, they thought about the events of the last four days, strengthening their appreciation for those who served not only in the battles studied during the staff ride, but throughout the war.