Strategic Studies Staff Rides

The Staff Ride Challenge

Staff rides were developed by the Prussian general staff early in the nineteenth century, and have been used intermittently by the American and other militaries since then. In the 1970's, the Army and the Marine Corps turned to them with particular vigor, and today they form a staple of instruction in advanced military schools such as the Army War College as well as in field units.

A staff ride differs from a guided battlefield tour in two respects. First, it is an educational technique for studying leadership. In a staff ride, participants ask the historian's questions "What happened?" "Why?" "With what result?" but then press further: "Did this commander make the right decision at this juncture?" "How would I have acted in his place?" "Should he have made a different decision given the information he had?" It is, to use an unpopular term, a judgmental exercise, and often a counterfactual one. A staff ride resembles a business school case study, but conducted, as it were, on-site.

Secondly, a staff ride requires active participation. The challenge and the pleasure of this activity lies in its character as a collective effort, and its success rests on the participants themselves. The staff ride director serves as a moderator or a seminar leader, and only in the last resort as a subject matter expert. What makes staff rides particularly stimulating is that they are group exercises, in which we examine many aspects of command and management. To that end each participant takes a turn giving a short talk, in most cases playing the role of one of the main participants in the battle, and is questioned by his or her colleagues about that participant's view of what has transpired on the battlefield.

What is the purpose behind a staff ride? Although participants plunge more deeply into a particular historical episode than do most casual visitors to a battlefield, the purpose is not to satisfy antiquarian interests, but to address larger issues. Some of the questions a group might explore are: "What are the limits imposed by loyalty on dissent against the chief's policies?" "How detailed should the guidance from a superior to a subordinate be?" "How can a senior leader make use of a competent, but overzealous and headstrong subordinate?" "Why do some leaders seem able to exploit opportunity, and others not?" "What explains repeated organizational success (or failure)?" The leadership issues posed in a staff ride transcend time and even the military frame of reference.

Previous Trips


Fall Staff Ride 2014 | Philadelphia Campaign of 1777, October 27-28, 2014


Spring Staff Ride 2014 | Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, May 18-19, 2014
International Staff Ride 2014 | 1918: Victory and Defeat in France and Belgium, World War I, March 14-21, 2014

Spring Staff Ride 2012 | Shenandoah Valley Campaign: May 6 - 7, 2012
International Staff Ride 2012 | The Battle of Britain: March 17-21, 2012
Fall Staff Ride 2011 | Ten Crucial Days, Trenton and Princeton: October 1-2, 2011


Spring Staff Ride 2011 | Yorktown Campaign: May 22-23, 2011
International Staff Ride 2011 | The Peninsular War in Spain: March 13-17, 2011
Fall Staff Ride 2010 | The Philadelphia Campaign and Valley Forge: September 25-26, 2010


Spring Staff Ride 2010 | The Appomattox Campaign: May 23-24, 2010
International Staff Ride 2010 | The Fall of France: March 13-18, 2009
Fall Staff Ride 2009 | The British Burning of Washington: October 17-18, 2009


Spring Staff Ride 2009 | Shenandoah Valley: The 1864 Valley Campaign: May 18-19, 2009
International Staff Ride | Frontline of the Cold War: Berlin and Prague: March 13-20, 2009
Fall Staff Ride | Harpers Ferry: September 26-28, 2008


Fall Staff Ride | Battle of Yorktown: September 28-30, 2007
International Staff Ride | Spanish Civil War: March 19-25, 2008
Spring Staff Ride | The Siege of Petersburg: May 16-17, 2008


Spring Staff Ride | Shenandoah: May 21 - 22, 2007
International Staff Ride | The Battle for Sicily: March 2007
Fall Staff Ride | Ft. Ticonderoga and Crown Point: September 15 - 17, 2006
Spring Staff Ride | Antietam: May 22 - 23, 2006
International Staff Ride | Irregular Warfare in Ireland: March 19 - 25, 2006
Fall Staff Ride | Brandywine and Valley Forge: November 5 - 6, 2005
Spring Staff Ride | Shenandoah Valley: May 9 -10, 2005
International Staff Ride | Cassino: March 12 - 18, 2005
Fall Staff Ride | The Battle of Fredericksburg: October 24, 2004
Spring Staff Ride | Antietam: May 15 - 16, 2004
International Staff Ride | Waterloo: March 2004
Fall Staff Ride | Gettysburg: October 18, 2003
Spring Staff Ride | The Battle of Cedar Creek: May 18 - 19, 2003
International Staff Ride | Normandy: March 8 - 14, 2003
Fall Staff Ride | The Battle of Fredericksburg: October 20, 2002
International Staff Ride | Franco-Prussian War: March 16 - 22, 2002
Fall Staff Ride | Antietam: September 23, 2001
Spring Staff Ride | The Battle of Yorktown: May 20 - 21, 2001
International Staff Ride: Gallipoli: March 17 - 24, 2001