The staff ride is a practice developed by the Prussian General Staff in the 19th century as means of educating military officers. The practice was brought to the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in 1906, and has been used as an educational tool by the U.S. military and other organizations dedicated to the teaching of strategy ever since.
On a staff ride, students and faculty tour the battlefields of a historic conflict, with each student playing the role of a specific participant in that conflict and presenting his or her contemporary point of view to the rest of the group. For example, on a staff ride to Gettysburg, a student might be assigned the role of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and have to explain to his or her fellow participants why General Lee decided to launch an ill-fated frontal assault ("Pickett's Charge") on the final day of the battle.
These exercises bring military history to life on the very terrain where historic encounters took place. By placing role-playing participants in the shoes of historical figures, staff rides provide memorable lessons and case studies in strategy, leadership, and decision making. Although drawn from the history of past conflicts, these lessons are broadly applicable, transcending time and the military frame of reference.
For more information about staff rides, contact The Philip Merrill Center at 202-663-5911.