By Ed Brennen
“Should I bring the napalm?”
Kimberly Merriman, professor of management in the Manning School of Business, was the last member of her unit to cross the raging river on the makeshift bridge they had fashioned out of wood planks and rope. With the four others safely across, it was up to Merriman to carry the canister of napalm, the highly flammable petroleum substance used in making bombs.
Merriman wasn’t really carrying napalm, of course. And there wasn’t a river raging below. She and her colleagues from the Manning School’s Ph.D. program were actually in the safe confines of a “leadership reaction course” at Fort Devens, taking part in a military orientation day with cadets and soldiers from the Massachusetts National Guard’s 101st Engineer Battalion.
Dubbed “Operation River Hawk,” the special visit was arranged by Lt. Col. Joshua Goodrich, battalion commander of the 101st and a part-time doctoral student in the leadership/organization studies concentration of the Ph.D. program. The goal of the exercise was twofold: to let the UML guests experience how the Army teaches leadership and organizational behavior, and to give them a better understanding of the sacrifices required of student cadets and soldiers.
Merriman was joined by Asst. Profs. of Management Elizabeth Altman and Karoline Evans and doctoral students Holly Butler and David Greenway for the half-day excursion, held on a sunny Saturday in early April at the sprawling, 5,000-acre military installation located 20 miles from campus.
Goodrich’s unit is based at the National Guard Armory in Methuen, where it conducts drills with ROTC student cadets from UMass Lowell. That connection sparked the idea for Operation River Hawk.
“We use education benefits as a big incentive for people to join the Massachusetts National Guard, so I thought it made sense to bring everybody together and strengthen the partnership with UMass Lowell,” says Goodrich, a native of Oxford, Mass., who has been in the Army for 27 years.
Three cadets from UMass Lowell – senior Kyle LeBlanc, junior Collin DesRoches and sophomores Nicholas Coughlin and Devin Gannon – helped facilitate the visit by leading briefings and demonstrations.
In addition to the leadership reaction course, the visitors fired simulation rounds from an M320 grenade launcher, learned how to use a gas mask to protect themselves from chemical and biological attacks, and got inside looks at military vehicles and command posts.
Gannon, a chemical engineering major and Honors student, led the grenade launcher demonstration. He’s a member of both the National Guard and the ROTC through the Army’s Simultaneous Membership Program.
“Balancing time between classes and research, especially as an engineer, and then coming to drill can be tough,” Gannon says. “It’s nice to be able to show faculty what I do when I’m not in class.”
Evans’ current research focuses on leadership in teams that are working under duress and in uncertain environments. So the experience of working together in limited time to get through the leadership reaction course proved extremely applicable.
“This is exactly the kind of thing I’ve done with mine rescue teams,” says Evans, who looks at how decisions are made when there are multiple agencies and chains of command involved. “It was fun to see this point of view. There are definitely some touch points here and ways we could potentially collaborate on projects.”
Merriman, the Ph.D. program director, says the day was even better than she expected.
“Not only did we learn from the cadets what they’re doing and balancing while they’re in class, but we learned a good amount about leadership,” says Merriman, who teaches a doctoral seminar on the subject. “We have a lot to discuss in our next class.”
Manning School Dean Sandra Richtermeyer, who comes from a family with deep ties to the Army and the Air National Guard, thanked Goodrich for organizing what they hope becomes an ongoing collaboration.
“It was an opportunity to get people out of their comfort zone that really came together well,” Goodrich says. “I’m hoping it’s a partnership that we can strengthen.”