Preparing For A Staff Ride That Doesn’t Involve Fire

There he was, shaved head and all, telling us all about how staff rides were first developed in the military, then adapted by a core of people in Wildland.  And there I was, sort of an outsider, full of questions, like:

“Do you think there’s an over-emphasis on the correlation we in the Wildland Fire community place between our job and the military?”

Basically, no there isn’t, because we’re not trying to draw a correlation between a fifty caliber machine gun and a drip torch. The relationship lies in leadership, and how the values and principles adopted by the military are easily interchanged into the governing hierarchy “within our ranks”. And there are many other parallels between as well – on closer inspection, we are eerily similar.

This was taken from the Maneuver Warfare Handbook By William S Lind. The Lt. Col. put this quote up when talking about reframing events to develop as a leader.

He said: we both have trucks, we’re both supported by aviation, both have ground forces, both deploy units into violent and uncertain areas… he had me. That guy up there speaking to our group, in about three hours, had me convinced of a couple key things. Number one being that staff rides are, in fact, not just theoretical nonsense, but do facilitate beneficial learning outcomes (you know that saying about making lemonade when you got some lemons? Well, when you don’t have fires poppin’ off, what are other ways to put your mind in situations and the sequence of events for something known, to explore the ideas behind certain decisions, etc.). The second key takeaway was how compartmentalized and intelligent the Lieutenant Colonel up there in front of us was.

So here I am, two years later, 2600 miles away from that Loop Fire Staff Ride, in a land steeped in war history, riddled with conflict, and everywhere signage telling of battle. This is the Southeast. A different fuel model, a different culture of people. Hell, we almost had two separate Americas.

My mission for the next five months is to develop my leadership qualities and capabilites amongst 20 or so firefighters in the same boat. We’re here (I think) to pursue similair ends. Some have taskbooks itching for ink, others have bank accounts dwindling, but we all have this idea of wildland fire, the idea that we can improve, we can test ourselves and figure out where our shortcomings are.

To kick this Southeast season off, we’re here  studying the Battle of Shiloh. Just as some crews out West visit South Canyon and go available following the staff ride, out here the plan is to go available after we’ve hiked the ground where Grant and Sherman teamed up against Johnston and Beauregard, a battle that was part of a larger struggle we now call the Civil War.

Thure de Thulstrip’s Battle of Shiloh


I’m trying to put the pieces together. Since this staff ride will inherently be quite different from incidents involving wildland fire, the sequence of events and all of the locations for each occurrence come secondary to the emphasis on leadership. My rough outline for this Battle consisted of listing out each key or critical officer for both the Union and the Confederate armies.

When I was handed James Lee McDonough’s Shiloh: In Hell Before Night I was also handed a copy of Leading In the Wildland Fire Service. Coincidence? I’ve decided to frame my interpretation of the Battle of Shiloh through the lens of the Values and Principles established in this little yellow book on leadership.

The values include duty, respect, and integrity.  For each value there is a handful of principles illustrating what a leader may live by.  Sure there are a hundred ways to skin a cat, but rather than reinventing the wheel, I’m applying the leadership guidelines created by somebody with good ideas in the fire service who came before me. For each officer, I’ll have a nice little idea about what they did or did not do to live up to our standard of quality leadership. This brings it home, this makes it easy to examine just about anything we experience, and then, refocus it under the lense of Fire.




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  1. Brad Hardesty

    I participated in the Shiloh Staff rode last year and took so much away from it. There are so many common factors in-between the two. You can see so many common factors between our 10 and 18s and battle. This is a great staff ride and each participate can gain so much from it

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