Staff Rides and City Jaunts

The truth is that the past few days have been a whirlwind. The seminar schedule was such that we spent two days here last week (not including arrival day), then piled into three 15-passenger vans on Friday and spent Friday-Saturday up at Fort Ticonderoga and Saratoga National Battlefield.

Within the first two hours of that drive, the lead van hit – or was hit by? – a turkey. The incident caused only cosmetic damage to the van, but we did suffer a fatality, because the turkey died on impact apparently. The pictures are pretty amazing, and we’ve dubbed it the Kamikaze Turkey and our mascot for the seminar.

First, what’s a staff ride? Well, it’s a military exercise. I call it a field trip, but the basic purpose of a staff ride is to take you out onto a battlefield and offer you a way to better understand how terrain, geography, circumstances on the field affected battle. It’s a great way to really get in to a battlefield site and to understand what happened and how. It’s also a great way to get a sunburn, be devoured by bugs, and develop REALLY TIRED feet. This is because staff rides – in contrast to the word “ride” in the title – are all about walking. And standing. And thinking strategically.

Don’t get me wrong: the experience was fantastic, and we got back Saturday night in time to hit the sack and enjoy a well-earned Sunday off. This means that I headed straight to NYC, where I visited Grant’s Tomb, had lunch at a great pizza place in Washington Heights with a friend (and former West Point Summer Seminar fellow), and visited The Cloisters. I also got a brief tour of the main buildings of Columbia University, where Peter Parker got bit by that spider and Hitch got dumped by his girlfriend.

But Monday, it was back to the staff ride theme again, and this trip was fairly local: a staff ride of West Point and Fort Montgomery. This was a role-playing staff ride, and I was George Washington, a part I made complete with my excellent name tag and period hat.

We took a boat over to Constitution Island, then a bus to Fort Montgomery just down the road. The best part – aside from getting to be the Father of our country – was the presence of Revolutionary War soldiers all day, including the parts where they skirmished and ambushed us in the woods, plus came at us with bayonet attacks.

Word has it that tomorrow, we get to retaliate by learning to skirmish too. Only this will be with Civil War soldiers and weapons, so I guess it’ll be a little different.

On Thursday morning, we’re off again, this time for a four-day jaunt to an archive, Antietam, Harpers Ferry, and two full days at Gettysburg. For the latter, I will be portraying General Robert E. Lee (in keeping with the leadership theme, but this time giving me the opportunity to better understand how he lost that one).

I suppose, then, that I can only sum up the seminar effectively by saying: we’re swamped. And we’re loving it. I hope to post more regularly in the coming days, but we’ll see what happens. After all, I’ve got big shoes to fill this weekend!

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