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USTRANSCOM conducts staff ride to Vicksburg

As the mist clung to the edges of the Spanish moss laden Cyprus trees, the group from the Midwest began to examine the greatest joint forces campaign of the Civil War deep in the heart of Mississippi.

The U.S. Transportation Command sponsored a staff ride to Vicksburg, where Maj. Gen. U.S. Grant masterfully took the "Key to the War" in a series of military actions which began in November 1862 and ended with the surrender of Gen. John Pemberton's Confederate forces on July 4,1863, ironically also the last day of the Gettysburg campaign in Pennsylvania. For 81 years, the citizens of Vicksburg would not celebrate the 4th of July - but remember their bitter surrender after 47 days of siege.

More than 30 members of USTRANSCOM, led by Air Force Gen. Duncan McNabb, members of Air Mobility Command and Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, walked the various sites of the battlefield and each person interpreted one of the generals from either the Confederate or the Union forces. Dr. Jay Smith, director of the research center, coordinated the training of the troops - civilian Department of Defense, Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force officers and enlisted personnel - to broaden their understanding of the campaign and prepare to analytically think through the actions their characters took or did not take.

"I am fond of Mark Twain's statement that, 'History does not repeat itself. But it does rhyme.' While I don't believe history imparts lessons per se, it does provide insights that can inform the present, said Smith. "The staff ride immerses people in a past military operation to look for what rhymes."

"How much would you pay if you were Pemberton or Grant for logistics dominance?" McNabb asked the assembled group. "That ability is the greatest advantage this country has and I count on you to continue to get better at it."

The staff riders felt the trip intensified their understanding of each other and the terrain surrounding Vicksburg including the importance of how the Mississippi River affected the logistical challenges, all of which proved pivotal in the Union defeat of the Confederate forces. As President Abraham Lincoln said, "Vicksburg is the key."

"I gained a better understanding of the effects of battlefield terrain -- at both the operational and tactical level. We developed relationships and esprit-de-corps with and among fellow TRANSCOM personnel," said Lt. Cmdr. Clay Mason, of the Strategy, Policy, Programs and Logistics Directorate.

"Tactics in warfare are similar today on a larger scale. Similar to the Union forces during the Civil War, the technology and equipment available to us in modern warfare is what sets us apart from other countries," said Neal Newberry, Acquisitions Directorate.

"The staff ride provided great examples of what it means to have logistics dominance on the battlefield. Maj. Gen. Grant's ability to control and take risks to control the flow of manpower, equipment and supplies gave him better mobility and maneuverability when it came time to engage Lt. Gen. Pemberton's Confederate troops. The staff ride also provided examples of the need to have 'jointness' between land- and ship-born (river) forces. The close cooperation and support received by Adm. Porter allowed Grant to take calculated risks that eventually help with the battle," said Marcelo Valdez, Intelligence Directorate.

The lessons of leadership, logistics and courage impressed the group.

"I now have a greater insight about leaders, their personnel experiences, and what made them tick. The staff ride reinforced to me that leadership is an art, and not necessarily a science," Cmdr. Shawn Murphy, Communications and Computer Systems Directorate.

By studying how Grant and Pemberton conducted the campaign, the riders found new appreciation for the decisions and challenges our current leaders face.

"The fortitude and courage it took for troops on both sides to storm defenses or troop positions in the face of strong resistance and prohibitive terrain. The mistakes that can be made by leadership and subordinates to choose a course of action they know will not succeed despite all evidence supporting alternate options," said Valdez.

"Seeing how supplies and personnel got around. The ships were key to supplies around Mississippi. They also transported personnel. The navigation of where you really are or are supposed to be -- we have superb capability now as compared to then," Kim Goodner, Command Surgeon Directorate.

When the two days of climbing the hills of the various sites of the more than six month campaign came to an end, the riders had an altered perception of the only American civil war and how the lessons they learned apply to American armed forces today.

"The walk up to Stockade Redan in 70-degree weather under favorable conditions compared to assaulting a prepared position under fire in 90-degree, high-humidity weather. It gives you an appreciation for the courage of the soldiers back then," Cmdr. David Rahmer, Joint Interagency Coordination Group.

"If you were injured in battle you could almost expect to lose a limb. How do you stay motivated knowing there is limited medical available? Also, the reason I think it is almost not believable because of how quick a soldier is moved from the battlefield to the hospital now," said Tim Gould, Contracting Directorate.

Many USTRANSCOM personnel have already expressed great interest in riding with the staff next year.

Office of Public Affairs - transcom-pa@mail.mil
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