SARATOGA NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK, N.Y. — Future New York Army National Guard company commanders and first sergeants discussed leadership and tactical lessons learned from the 1777 Battle of Saratoga as they walked the battlefield here on Wednesday.
The 35 leaders took part in the battlefield tour, known as a staff ride, as part of the Company Commander and First Sergeant Pre-Command Course.
The training started with a helicopter ride, via UH-60 Black Hawks flown by the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation, based in Latham, to a designated landing zone at the battlefield, where the Soldiers conducted their leadership training exercise.
"Saratoga is rich in history, and I'm looking forward to learning some of that history today," said Capt. Erica Moreland, the incoming commander of the 138th Public Affairs Detachment, before the trip.
"I'm hoping to learn how decisions affect the course of battle, or even just how leadership plays a key role to units and individual Soldiers," she said.
In September and October 1777, American troops under Generals Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold confronted a British Army invading from Canada led by Gen. John Burgoyne.
The British Army was advancing south along the Hudson River and seeking to capture Albany to split New England from the rest of the country.
In two battles – the Battle of Freeman's Farm on Sept. 19, 1777, and the Battle of Bemis Heights on Oct. 7– the American forces defeated the British and forced their withdrawal north to Saratoga. When finally surrounded, Burgoyne was forced to surrender 5,900 troops on Oct. 17, 1777.
The Battle of Saratoga is considered by many historians as the turning point in the Revolutionary War, bringing recognition of the newly formed United States and the support of French military forces into the war.
The Pre-Command Course is a New York Army National Guard program to prepare officers and NCOs for the tasks and responsibilities they face in command positions as a company first sergeant or company commander.
The course is valuable in learning how to work as a command team, and listen to input from Soldiers, said Capt. Michael Tracey, the commander of Bravo Company, 427th Brigade Support Battalion.
"This pre-command course is very valuable, and I think it's really going to help a lot of Soldiers out, and bring positive change to our organization," Tracey said. "It's not a one-man thing; you're leading a team. You need to use the talents and perspectives of the people in your team, because you may have a blind spot. If you have a team, they'll help you see that blind spot and you'll form better decisions."
The Soldier's guide through the battlefield was a civilian, James Hughto, an official Saratoga Battlefield tour guide since 1996.
Hughto walked the Soldiers through the tactical movements on both sides of the battlefield and discussed why decisions made by the American and British leaders did and didn't work.
"I've been providing tours for over 20 years," Hughto said. "It's good to be able to share with these Soldiers their history…this is their lineage and it's important to remember it."
The officers and NCOs were divided into five groups and were asked to analyze battlefield actions at five key points.
Tracey was team leader for one of the groups.
"We were given different scenarios at different points in the battle and we were given a couple of options," Tracey explained.
"'What would you do if you were the British or American general?' The way you looked at it, you wanted to keep you overall objective in mind, but in the context of what are your tactical advantages and that would help guide you into your decision making," he said.
"When I would go over the options, I wanted to try not to give my bias upfront, "Tracey said. "Once people gave their perspective I would chime in with mine and we would all relate it to what we were trying to achieve and pick the one that most met that goal."
Overall, it was an excellent training opportunity, said," said Capt. Alix Shepard, executive officer for the New York Joint Force Headquarters Detachment.
"We're here to learn some more of the area's history and maybe see how we can apply some of that history moving forward in our careers as well, "she said. "It's great that the National Guard is able to coordinate this for us today and bring us out here."