NORMANDY, France —Members of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 174th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, Ohio National Guard, walked the beaches and battlefields of the historic D-Day invasion during a staff ride they conducted while mobilized to Europe in support of Atlantic Resolve, Aug. 26 - 27.
Most of HHC personnel were afforded the opportunity to participate in what would prove to be a meaningful and enriching experience.
“Normally this would be our senior leaders of the organization,” said Col. James McCandless, 174th commander. “But, because we had some other events going on, we were able to bring the vast majority of our headquarters, so we have all the way from PFC all the way up to colonels attending this.”
A staff ride is a historical study of a campaign or battle that includes a preliminary study, visits to battlefield sites, lectures and conversations with military historians. An important part of this is the analysis of the terrain over which the battle took place and the effect of that terrain upon the outcome of the conflict.
“So, the challenge of this particular staff ride was to set the strategic framework and talk about the operation down to the tactical level,” said Col. (Ret.) Jeffery Merenkov, battlefield staff ride historian, CSM Solutions. “As the historian and facilitator, my challenge is to make sure that I present and frame the battle, the lessons learned, what happened and why it happened in terms that everyone is interested, and that everyone understands the strategic detail down to the tactical level.”
Terrain considerations were at the forefront of the conversations. The wealth of displays and imagery made available at the many museums in Normandy brought the battle to life in the imaginations of the staff ride participants. Many of the historian’s lectures were delivered on the beach where the battles were fought. Climbing the terrain and experiencing the location was a lesson in itself.
“It was humbling just to think about what they went through,” said Staff Sgt. Stacia Britney Hetrick, administration noncommisioned officer with HHC. “I had a hard time getting up some of those hills, and I didn’t have one hundred pounds of gear on my back.”
Allied victory in Europe during World War II is a proud moment in American history. For some of the participants, that history is personal.
“Both my grandfathers served,” Hetrick said. “I know for a fact that my grandfather on my mom’s side was part of the first invasion. He was drafted, and he was here for a while. It meant a lot that today I went through and probably walked on some of the same ground that my grandfathers walked on, and did some of the same things that they did - I think that’s cool.”
For many, the experience was a "once in a lifetime" opportunity.
“I think it’s been a great experience,” McCandless said. “Many of us have had the opportunity to study World War II, but very few have had the opportunity to come out and actually walk the ground where all this occurred. I think that really getting out there, especially walking these beaches, really sets the stage and gives you the true perspective of how difficult the terrain and the environment was at that point in time.”
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