July 1-3 marks 150 years since the battle at Gettysburg was fought during the U.S. Civil War. A few years ago, while I was a participant in NASA's leadership development program, I was fortunate to receive a guided tour of the site with a young Captain from the Army War College. Afterwards, I wrote these words, as true today as they were then:
As I reflected on that point while actually walking the fields of Gettysburg, I wondered about that point as well as the decisions and failings of leadership that led to the ultimate of consequences those three days. My analytic thoughts turned to more emotional ones as I walked the fields in chronological order of the three days of battle. I sensed the ebb and flow of the first day as the Confederacy made contact with Buford’s cavalry on the rolling hills to the west of town, when the leadership on both sides had no real sense of the battle yet to come. I felt the split-second decisions of leadership as I stood on Little Round Top where Joshua Chamberlain gave the order to fix bayonets and charge. I wondered about the certainties and uncertainties of leadership decisions as I stood where Lew Armistead died as one of the few in Pickett’s charge to make it beyond the Union lines. I sought parallels of the consequences of the decisions of leadership at Gettysburg with the work of my organization at NASA – after all, we deal with decisions that can kill people – and felt deeply the loss of the crews of Challenger and Columbia. When the day at Gettysburg drew to a close, I found that words failed me. In some sense, they still do.
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