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Wildcat Fans From Afar

By Mark Janssen
 
Visualize, if you will, hundreds of soldiers doing the "Wabash Cannonball" routine. Some are in full uniform and others in their relaxed gear of a variety of purple on white, white on purple t-shirts, all, of course, decorated with the K-State Powercat.
 
"We had a lot of fun with that. I think we sent K-State 30 minutes of raw footage that I hope can be put to music and have it shown at Fort Riley Day," said Division Command Sergeant Major Jim Champagne, who is currently in charge of the Fort Riley's First Infantry Division in Basrah, Iraq. "You can't see the purple outside our building, but my office, and in several other cubicles, there are shrines to K-State.
 
"I have a note from Frank Martin, and Joni Smoller (K-State's Director of Fan Experience) has sent us all the team posters," said Champagne. "I'm telling you, the Powercat is everywhere."

Saturday will be Fort Riley Day at Bill Snyder Family Stadium where the Wildcats will be trying to go 4-0 in an 11:30 a.m. kickoff against Central Florida.
 
The start time in Iraq will be 7:30 p.m. Saturday evening with Champagne promising, "I can't tell you how many of our soldiers will be planted in front of computers following the Cats on the internet. I know that I will be one of them following it on the radio. Throughout our living quarters, there will be a lot of hooting and hollering during the game."
 
Along with continuing to advise and assist the Iraqi security forces and helping in the reconstruction process in the areas of agriculture and the overall economy in the southern Iraq region, Champagne said there is one general off-duty topic among the soldiers.
 
"All week the talk has been on beating Central Florida," Champagne said. "'How are we going to do? Is Daniel (Thomas) going to rush for 200? How's the defense going to do against Central Florida's speed?' We're asking here what every fan in Manhattan is asking. The game of the week is always the topic of choice on Sunday. Last week, we were so pumped up after beating Iowa State. That was just an awesome game."
 
Saturday's Fort Riley Day festivities will start at 10:30 a.m. with the arrival of 800 soldiers marching into the stadium.
 
The day will also be highlighted by the firing of "Old Thunder," a Revolutionary Civil war-era cannon, plus machine gun fire from two High Mobility Mounted Wheeled Vehicles.
 
Representatives from Riley County and Fort Riley will sign their Army Community Covenant at halftime, which will also feature the K-State ROTC Pershing Rifle group and Fort Riley's Garrison Flag.
 
Champagne also dropped the hint, "I don't want to let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, but we're going to have something very special for Willie during the festivities, so don't miss that. That's all I'm going to say, but don't miss it."
 
Champagne went on to call the Kansas State-Fort Riley relationship a "great one" that all started five years ago when the football team started a partnership with the "Black Lions" infantry battalion.
 
"It was as simple as bringing the players on base to experience a day with our soldiers," Champagne said. "Today, I think we have 34 different partnerships with a variety of the K-State teams."
 
Personally, Champagne remembers his invitation from Bill Snyder to speak to the football team prior to the Tennessee Tech game last year, which K-State won, 49-7.
 
Laughing, Champagne said, "I don't like to take full responsibility, but we took it to Tennessee Tech that day."
 
Of his speech, Champagne said, "I can look at 10,000 soldiers and have no issues. But I'm telling you, I was nervous standing before that Division I football team with a man like Coach Snyder ... a legend ... standing beside me.
 
"I remember walking into that room and how the total focus was on Coach Snyder. In that calm, cool voice, he said, 'We have a special guest who would like to speak for a couple minutes,' and the focus turned to me. Everything I had planned to say went out the window because of nerves."
 
Champagne compared his visit with the Wildcats as preparing the Big Red One for a battle of far greater significance, yet the mood was the same.
 
"You could see that focus, those game faces that were prepared to take on their own enemy," Champagne said. "I talked to them about individual leadership and how important it was to do the job because the man to their right, and to their left, was counting on them.
 
"I asked them to sustain that focus for only 60 minutes, and reminded them that we ask our soldiers to do that for 12 to 18 hours a day, every day in 120-degree heat," Champagne said. "All they were being asked to do is focus for 60 minutes."
 
Champagne, who said that the collection of roughly 9,000 soldiers should all be back to Fort Riley by early January, said the K-State-Fort Riley experience is one-of-a-kind when it comes to a University and a military base adopting one another.
 
As for which side - K-State or Fort Riley - enjoys this marriage more, Champagne offered, "I would guess that is 50-50. It just depends on who you talk to. I would guess the soldiers would say they enjoy it most, and the student-athletes would say that they are having more fun with it. It's just been a great experience for both of us."
 
 
We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact either Mark Janssen at mjanssen7@cox.net, or Kansas State Director of Athletic Communications/SID Kenny Lannou at klannou@kstatesports.com.