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NEWS | July 31, 2019

Airmen learn leadership lessons at Gettysburg battlefield

By Master Sgt. Christine Wood 109th Air Wing, New York Air National Guard

GETTYSBURG, Pa. – Twenty-four 109th Airlift Wing Airmen took part in the wing’s annual professional development course at the Army’s Carlisle Barracks and the historic Gettysburg National Military Park, July 8-11.

Targeted at senior non-commissioned officers and company-grade officers, the course used the history of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg as a teaching tool to convey leadership lessons and apply them to challenges the Airmen face today.

The goal is to provide Airmen with enhanced leadership skills to help become an outstanding leader in today’s ever-changing Air Force, according to 109th Airlift Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Denny Richardson, who oversaw the course.

Richardson has conducted leadership courses at other battlefields such as Lexington, Concord and Saratoga Battlefield.

“A staff ride represents a unique and persuasive method of conveying the historic lessons from past battles and applying leadership principles to today’s environment. This is accomplished by conducting a 2-hour lecture followed by a 6-hour tour of the battlefield itself,” Richardson said.
Richardson selects a new training topic each year.

“Our mid-level managers must learn how to adapt their leadership style if we want to be successful at motivating our members…this staff ride greatly assists me in my quest in building, 21st century leaders…one Airmen at a time!” Richardson explained.

Fought from July 1 to July 3, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg is one of the most important battles of the Civil War. The Union Army of the Potomac turned back an offensive launched by Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia after three days of fighting in the largest battle ever fought in North America.

The battle is considered the high watermark of the Confederacy by historians and has been studied ever since for military leadership lessons.
Airmen that attended stayed at Carlisle Barracks, and 109th instructors taught the classroom portion there as well. The lessons taught under the topic of Adaptable Leadership were trust, commander’s intent, loyalty, commitment, selflessness, and followership.

Carlisle Barracks is an Army facility located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and the site of the U.S. Army War College and second oldest active military base.

“The instruction was based on research conducted by the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences.” Richardson said.

Examples he explained consisted of handling emergencies or crisis situations, solving problems creatively, dealing effectively with unpredictable or changing work situations, demonstrating interpersonal and cultural adaptability.

Three traits of an adaptable leader are flexible thinking, planning, and curiosity.

“These characteristics existed in a majority of the leaders during the Gettysburg Campaign. With so many decisions to be made in a moment’s notice, adaptability played a major role during this battle.” Richardson said.

The second half of the course consisted of battlefield lecture and a staff ride of Gettysburg conducted by two civilian historians from the Army War College.

“This look at the leadership lessons learned from this 3-day battle, outlined how and why decisions were made and challenges faced that impacted the battle.” Richardson said.

109th Chaplain Capt. Joshua Choquette, a student who also acted as an instructor, said he was impressed by what he learned.

“The course was pretty powerful as we delved deeply into the leadership teachings, hearing from several different perspectives on what being an adaptive leader looks like. Connecting with people throughout the course and staff ride made for a cohesive environment.” Choquette said.

Master Sgt. Michael Igenecia, another student, said he learned a lot.

“It was an amazing experience to see how different leadership styles shaped the outcome of the war. I was able to take away so many examples of how I can improve as a leader.” Ignecia said. “These include understanding the Airmen that you supervise, acknowledging their needs and following through with commitments because members respect leaders who are reliable and trustworthy.”