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Mini Staff Ride Offers Preview of a Bigger Learning Experience

Staff Ride to the Air & Space Museum

On Saturday February 3, 2024, about 50 Johns Hopkins SAIS students, faculty, staff, and special guests traveled to the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum to prepare for an upcoming international staff ride later in the spring. The inaugural mini staff ride gave students a glimpse of what to expect when they travel to France and Britain—with stops in Dunkirk, Dover, and London—from March 17 to 23.

The international staff ride, a long-standing SAIS tradition in experiential learning, is an immersive, on-the-ground study of historical events and strategic decisions, with the goal to “think in time” to prepare future leaders for the challenges and opportunities they may face in their careers. The Udvar-Hazy Center, near Washington Dulles International Airport, holds hundreds of historically significant aircraft and other artifacts, and is the companion facility for the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Beyond the class room trip
This year, the students are studying the Battle of Britain during World War II and exploring topics including national mobilization in wartime, the role of allies in a military campaign, the impact of technology and intelligence, Royal Air Force and Luftwaffe airpower strategies, and how authoritarian states and democracies go to war. The group will also engage with representatives from the United Kingdom Secretary of State’s Office for Net Assessment and Challenge, the Air Historical Branch of the Royal Air Force, British historians, and former UK government officials.

"The international staff ride gives participants an opportunity to understand the decisions that shaped history from the perspective of those who made them,” said Thomas Mahnken, professor of practice and co-director, Master of Arts in Strategy, Cybersecurity, and Intelligence. “Students frequently tell me that going on the international staff ride was one of the most powerful experiences they had at SAIS."

The goals for the mini staff ride at the Udvar-Hazy Center included helping participants understand the operational and strategic context for the Battle of Britain that raged in summer 1940. It covered the period from January 1925 to May 1940 and explored themes of airpower and aircraft development, interwar military planning, and the geopolitical environment in the lead-up to World War II.

Participants on the international staff ride will be required to adopt a role of a key participant in the Battle of Britain and prepare a stand at a relevant historical site, explaining their character’s background, motivations, and strategic thinking, before answering audience questions.

“The mini staff ride gave students important historical background and context, as well as a sense of what a good staff ride presentation looks like, and what will be expected of them on the trip,” said Eric Lindsey, a SAIS alum and instructor in the International Staff Ride Leadership Seminar. “This was a great innovation and may be a best practice we repeat in future years.”

Luke Litle, a first-year MAIR student, described the visit to the Udvar-Hazy Center as a wonderful way of getting the staff ride team into the right frame of mind for the subsequent trip. “With a strong example set and a solid rapport built, I'm thrilled to see what the members of the international staff ride team will come up with to portray their historical figures when we travel to Europe,” he said.

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