Saturday, November 12, 2011

US Army War College and the Army Heritage and Education Center

It has been a while, I know.  As H noted in a recent post, I am attending the Army War College in Carlisle, PA for 10 months.  The curriculum keeps me busy, and I have let time slip by.  It has been nearly 20 years since I attended any kind of school, so academic work has been not only a bit difficult to adjust to, but it has also been time-consuming.  Keeping up with the reading takes a good chunk of the day, and then there are the papers.  I cannot complain though. It is an opportunity to get a second masters degree and comes at government--taxpayer's--expense.  I hope to make the investment a worthy one.   One of the primary reasons I wanted to go is to both take advantage of my interest in military history and to improve my use of it in the context of current events.  I think my current study plan fulfills that desire.

The first half of the school year focuses on "core" courses; strategic thinking, the theory of war and strategy, strategic leadership, national security policy and strategy, and theater strategy and campaign planning.   Later in the year, we will work through electives, which I am looking forward to since the electives curriculum is quite broad and offers a great deal of flexibility, particularly in history courses.   I am currently in the national security and policy block, which is a bit of a bore since most of the curriculum reflects the world--the processes of Washington, DC--I have been working in for the last 15 years or so.  Thus far, I have found the theory of war and strategy block to be the most interesting.  The readings were engaging, largely because they were historically focused, and the chief seminar facilitator (a civilian historian and a professor at a civilian university) was the most competent instructor thus far.  One of the purposes of the War College is to get US Army colonels and senior civilian officers to think at the "strategic" level, as opposed to the tactical and operational level.  In that endeavor, I think the college is largely successful.  The quality of instruction, however, is a bit uneven, probably because the college in part seems to be a refuge for late-career and retired colonels.

I think it is obvious from this blog that my interest in military history is largely at the tactical and operational level, but the theory of war and strategy block in particular has inspired me to take my reading to a higher level; and by that I mean historical works that focus on strategic decision making.  I have a new respect for the Athenian historian Thucydides (read The Landmark Thucydides) and books like The Making of Strategy:  Rulers, States, and War (Williamson Murray, ed) and Bernard Brodie's War and Politics, as well as works by Colin Gray and Paul Kennedy.  Murray's Strategy has an exceptional chapter by John Gooch on how the British managed its far-flung empire in the years before WW1 when it was coming to the realization that it was over-extended ("The Weary Titan:  Strategy and Policy in Great Britain, 1890-1914").  That entry might have some relevance for US strategists today.  For those of you who are more into the theory of war, I think Clausewitz still applies, despite his detractors.   Clausewitz is tough to read, so if you want to get a taste of him without struggling through On War, try Michael Howard's Clausewitz:  A Very Short Introduction for a start.  And if you cannot stomach Clausewitz at all, don't forget Sun Tzu or Henri Jomini.  Otherwise, just stick with Thucydides.  He was a historian, not a theorist, but the aspects of war he wrote about some 2,500 years ago, still apply today.

But I digress.  Nearby the War College is the Army Heritage and Education Center.  It is open to the public and well worth your time.  It offers three venues for use.  The first of which, the archives, are impressive, particularly for anyone interested in writing on the particulars of the US Army.  Their motto is something along the lines of "Telling the Army story, one soldier at a time."  If you want to check out their holdings, go here:  The Center also offers a couple of indoor displays.  Currently, it has one on General of the Army Omar Bradley and, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War, a display on the soldiers of the conflict (see the photos below).  Last, there is a permanent outdoor display called The Heritage Trail.  It is about a mile walk through a number of displays telling the story of the American army and soldier from the Revolutionary War through our most recent conflicts.  I've include a few photographs below, but you can also access the Heritage Trail through the AHEC's interactive website here:

An impressive display of small arms.

Kudos for showing the heavy and gruesome costs of war.
The AHEC is a fairly large place. This particular building holds the archives.

The M4 Sherman.  Mainstay of the US Army's armor forces in World War 2.

One of the things I liked about the walk are these vignettes of individual acts of heroism.  This one describes the capture of a Confederate battle flag during the Battle of Antietam in 1862.

A 12-lb "Napoleon" smoothbore cannon from the Civil War.

There are a few monuments to individual units that have served in America's wars.  The 80th "Blue Ridge Boys" Division, comprised of draftees from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and western Virginia, fought in World War One.  It suffered heavy losses in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign.  Curiously, the monument notes the elements of the divisions has participated in military operations since since 2001.

The M60 tank. Mainstay of US armor forces prior the introduction of the M1 Abrams in the 1980s.   I am a former tanker, having served on M60A3s, M1s, and M1A1s, so I always find myself drawn to these tank displays.

M60s crossing the Mass River in the Netherlands during an exercise in the 1980s.

The AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter.  First introduced during the Vietnam War, it is still used by many military forces, including the US Marine Corps.

The UH-1 "Huey" helicopter, forever identified with America's misadventure in Vietnam.

An 8-inch howitzer.  These were introduced in World War 2 and served in the US Army until the 1990s.  Having seen these action, I can attest to their power.  This one could use a visit from an air compressor.
An 8-inch howitzer in action in Korea, 1951.

A replica of Redoubt Number 10, one of the British forts at Yorktown seized towards the end of the siege in 1781.

The interior.
One of the displays on the Heritage Trail is a firebase representing the war in Vietnam.  Fire Support Bases (or just "firebases") were often used in the Vietnam War for artillery support.  Usually, the artillery used were 105mm howitzers, like this one, or 155mm howitzers.

A 105 and its crew in action.
A photo of "Buffalo" soldiers from the Spanish-American War of 1898.  These troopers are from the 9th Cavalry Regiment around the time of the fighting for the San Juan heights in Cuba.  Before the desegregation of the Army during the Korean War, the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments, as well as the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments, were comprised of black soldiers with mostly white officers.
Entrance to a replica of a WW1 German bunker. 

American dispatch runners in the Argonne, October 1918.

I think the WW1 trench system is probably the most impressive part of the Heritage Walk.

Complete with barbed wire, the nemesis of infantry during WW1.

Designed from photographs of WW1 trenches.

Machine guns used by American soldiers during WW1.  From left to right:  A Hotchkiss, Browning, and Vickers.   One that is missing is the Chauchat, a French-made machine gun notorious for its poor performance.  The machine gun in WW1 was a devastating weapon.  For an idea of its impact, read The Social History of the Machine Gun by John Ellis.  Of course, read any good book on the carnage of WW1, like say The First Day on the Somme, 1 July 1916 by Martin Middlebrook or To Conquer Hell:  The Meuse-Argonne in 1918 by Edward Lengel, and you will get a pretty good idea of the impact of the machine gun.

American soldier manning a machine gun.

One of the nice things about the Heritage Walking Tour is that the staff has tried to identify as many of the men or units in the photographs as possible.  These guys are from the 165th Regiment of the 42nd "Rainbow" Division, and they are firing a 3-inch Stokes mortar near Chausseres, France on 3 June, 1918.  Mortars, with their high trajectory and rapid rate of fire (essentially as fast you could load it) were deadly weapons in trench warfare.
Another example of a personalized vignette on the tour; a WW1 soldier of the 16th Regiment, 1st Infantry Division.  The 1st "Big Red One" was the first American unit to enter combat during the war and ultimately suffered over 22,000 casualties.

No tour today would be complete without something symbolizing our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In this case, "Hesco" barriers.

No comments:

Post a Comment