Battlefield Staff Ride Program

[Group discussion at Brandenburg Gate]

Students brief the importance of Berlin as a location for political speeches in front of the Brandenburg Gate during CISS' spring 2017 staff ride on the Cold War.

CISS has conducted annual staff rides at Gettysburg, as well as international staff rides at Normandy, France (WWII) and Belgium (WWI), Germany and Belgium (Cold War), and Israel. In spring 2018, CISS traveled to Spain to conduct a staff ride on the Spanish Civil War.

Staff rides are in depth and interactive battlefield studies focusing on the tactical, operational, and strategic factors that caused a battle to unfold as it did. Long a centerpiece in American military education, staff rides combine background historical research, firsthand appreciation for terrain, and a systematic analysis of each side’s decision making. Staff rides offer unrivaled insight into the most intangible – and most critical – aspects of strategy and wartime leadership. Staff rides are intensely collaborative learning experiences and require participants to study the battle beforehand and to actively contribute to discussions while at the battlefield. Though led by experienced military officers, the work of organizing and executing the staff ride is done entirely by Princeton students.


Students discuss the early stages of the Battle of Gettysburg on the battlefield.

Students discuss the early stages of the Battle of Gettysburg on the battlefield.

CISS launched this program with an inaugural staff ride to the Battlefield at Gettysburg in April 2010 for Princeton University students and faculty. This highly successful program has continued with annual trips to Gettysburg and has expanded in 2012 to include international trips for students and faculty.  Staff rides have been conducted to Normandy, France to study the D-Day invasion of World War II, to the battlefields of Belgium and northern France to study the Western Front of World War I, to Germany and Belgium to study the Cold War and to Israel to study the history of Arab-Israeli wars and conflict.  In 2018, students and faculty traveled to Spain to study the conduct and history of the Spanish Civil War. Both the Gettysburg and international staff rides give students an invaluable opportunity to study these pivotal battles in history and the way war inexorably links tactics, technology, strategy and politics.

Student reaction to this unique learning experience can be evidenced by some of the comments received from participants.

Students discuss sea power on Easy Beach in Normandy, France.

Dr. Ed Erickson discusses sea power on Easy Beach in Normandy, France.

“This was, by far, the most enlightening experience I have had at Princeton.  While the preparation work was time consuming, it meant that I had a really solid understanding of the battle and could take full advantage of the staff ride. It also meant that everyone on the ride was fully invested in the effort and fostered some intelligent, informed discussions about the battle. More importantly, it provided some great insight into leadership, decision-making and civil-military relations. As someone who is deeply interested in policy, having a grounding and literacy in these questions is crucial; the staff ride is the ultimate way to achieve that.”