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Cadets Visit Europe to Study Politics of Allied Leadership

FullTextImage/img/@altVMI cadets visited Oxford University during their recent trip to Europe over spring furlough. -- Photo courtesy of Capt. Beth Stefanik.

LEXINGTON, Va., March 31, 2014 – Five cadets representing all four of VMI’s ROTC units spent nine days during last month’s spring furlough in Europe studying allied military leadership.

Maj. John Matsui, assistant professor of history, led the group on an Olmsted Foundation short-term cultural immersion program to investigate allied cooperation and conflict from 1815 to 2015. The group visited the United Kingdom and Belgium, immersing themselves in the culture and politics of allied military leadership during the Napoleanic wars, as well as World War I and World War II.

In addition to visiting the Belgian battlefields of Waterloo and Ypres, cadets Phillip Kroke ’14, Elizabeth Pryor ’14, Ryan McDaniel ’14, Joshua Phillips ’14, and Kord Pauley ’14 toured the Churchill war rooms, the cruiser HMS Belfast and the British Museum in London, and met with World War I scholar Hew Strachan at Oxford University.

In Belgium, the group also met with American military personnel at NATO headquarters to observe how allied military leadership functions in the 21st century.

“The trip combined the best qualities of the practical and theoretical study of history and military strategy,” noted Matsui. “The battlefield visits to Waterloo and Ypres in Belgium enabled us to get a general's-eye-view of the terrain that multinational coalitions contested in 1815 and 1915.

“In contrast, our visits to Oxford University and NATO headquarters provided the cadets with the opportunity to pick the brains of scholars and serving officers in the U.S. Army as to the past and present importance of a proper understanding of strategy as applicable to both politics and warfare,” added Matsui.

To prepare for their experiences, cadets read chapters on Waterloo and the Somme in John Keegan’s The Face of Battle and supplemental literature on the poetry and literature written by officers and inspired by World War I. Cadets also familiarized themselves with the working relationship between British and American generals during World War II.

“History came to life,” noted Phillips upon his return. “Reading about it in a book or an article is one thing. Going there and envisioning the movements and seeing the field is entirely different.”

Funded by a grant from the Olmsted Foundation, an organization whose mission is to provide overseas opportunities to young military leaders, the program took place at no cost to the participating cadets.

Kroke, soon to commission in the Army, said he felt the experience was a prelude to his upcoming career. “As future military officers, we need to be prepared to navigate an increasingly globalized world,” he said. “This trip gave us some necessary insights on the role of coalition forces in confronting challenges the world over.”

Additional funding for faculty travel was provided by the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics.

– Capt. Beth Stefanik, Center for Leadership and Ethics