Legacy of leadership continues in Gettysburg

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Patrick O’Reilly
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Col. Donald Wren, 445th Mission Support Group commander, led his final leadership staff ride to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Oct. 22-27.

Reserve Citizen Airmen ventured to the historic battlegrounds to reflect on what it means to be a leader. The experience is part of an array of leadership programs in the Air Force to help pave the way for future leaders.

“Gettysburg Leadership Staff Ride is a unique experience that allows members to gain and assess their leadership skills and tactics outside of a classroom,” said Maj. Nathaniel Copen, 445th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron director of operations. “Members can immerse themselves in the actual environment where the battle of Gettysburg occurred. While receiving information on specific aspects of what the leaders of both the Union and Confederate armies were experiencing, members can visualize the same setting as those leaders.

“Each day builds upon the previous day and allows members to assess their own thoughts and opinions on how they would have reacted in their roles,” Copen continued. “I found myself reflecting on my experiences as an officer and those correlated with the officers of both armies during the battle of Gettysburg. One of my biggest take-aways, was that leadership is not perfect and like a fulcrum, there is a constant balance between transformation and transactional leadership.”

Wren organized the first iteration of the 445th Airlift Wing’s staff ride in 2010. Since then, dozens of 445th Airmen have participated in the week-long historical and educational tours. The staff ride included a museum tour, a documentary film, and extensive presentations at 20 different historical sites around the Gettysburg battlefield region. The group also participated in an officially licensed, guided tour of the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

“As leaders at every level, we need to constantly improve our critical analysis skills, learn, reflect, and grow both personally and professionally,” said Col. Barry Crane, 307th Mission Support Group commander from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, who also helps run the staff ride. “This leadership staff ride, especially with Gettysburg’s history, allows us to think about what happened using past events and incorporate transformational leadership lessons for us as individuals and improve our units back home.”

Each day signified a day during the three-day battle, and the group visited various locations and learned the background of the history and personnel posted there almost 170 years ago.

“Overall, this was a great opportunity and an excellent course for our NCOs and officers to build upon their careers as leaders,” Copen said. “The cadre were very well versed and provided great examples of leadership for us members to build on each day. There was a sense, throughout the week, that not only were we being taught about the leadership aspects of Gettysburg, but that the cadre was passing the torch down to us future leaders. In the end, I walked away with a better sense of my leadership style and ways that I can continue to build up my foundation as an officer and grow in my role.”

Along with Airmen from the 445th AW at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, the event also included active-duty members assigned to WPAFB’s 88th Comptroller and Communication squadrons, as well as reservists from geographically separated units assigned to WPAFB’s 655th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Wing, and the 315th AW from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina.

Even though Wren will be retiring, the Gettysburg Leadership Staff Ride will continue with the next one scheduled for June 2024.