K-State, Fort Riley Partnerships Continue Growth
From ideas on how to grow the newest partnerships to ideas on how to strengthen the current ones, the lunch was a hit for all in attendance.
"Our partnership can always get stronger," said Col. Robert A. Law, III, Commander of the 1st Sustainment Brigade, partner to the Wildcat women's basketball team, "and this was a great venue to interact with, not only some of the other military units about what they do with their partnership, but with the other team members to make these partnerships even stronger."
With the recent down-sizing of Fort Riley, numerous units are relocating, and that means four teams at K-State will have new partner units.
At the lunch, representatives from the Wildcats' football, baseball, equestrian and women's golf teams had the opportunity to get to know their new partners.
"It's very exciting," said LTC Trent Upton, commander of the football team's new partner unit, the 1-16 Iron Rangers. "It's Division I college football, so that sells itself. I discussed it with Coach (Sean) Snyder and the staff, and we have a lot of similarities in regards to building leaders, team building, building the will to win, and working with a very similar age demographic. We shared ideas with each other today on how to do things together that can not only be applied to the football field, but also on the battlefield."
Prior to partnering with the Iron Rangers, K-State football has had a close relationship with its former partner, the 1-28 Infantry Regiment Black Lions. Though the Black Lions are soon relocating to Fort Benning, Georgia, the past nine years partnering with the Wildcat football squad won't soon be forgotten.
"I think that the partnerships with K-State Athletics are so valuable to the Big Red One and all of Fort Riley, but speaking straight for this football partnership, we couldn't have had a better partner," said LTC David Lander, Commander of the 1-28 Infantry. "Seeing how we have to give it up, which we surely didn't want to, it's bittersweet. We hate to see the partnership with the Black Lions end, we loved seeing our crest on the football helmets, but since we do have to give it up, 1-16 Infantry is the way to go. The Iron Rangers are a fantastic organization, they have a very long lineage and a proud history in the Army, so it's a good unit for football to be with."
Like football, the Wildcat baseball team has also partnered with a new unit. With its former unit the 2-16 Rangers leaving Fort Riley, the 2-1 General Aviation Support Battalion has become the Bat Cats' newest partner.
"I think it is really cool," said LTC Jake Dlugosz, commander of the 2-1 General Aviation Support Battalion about the partnership. "I love baseball, so as far as having an athletic partnership at K-State, having the baseball team is an awesome opportunity. We have a lot of interest within the battalion already. We had the opportunity to go to a game a few weeks ago. We had 220 soldiers ready to go - that's almost half of our battalion - so it shows there's a high level of interest and excitement."
At the lunch, Chelsi Medved, assistant director of ticketing services and the key contact between Fort Riley and K-State, spoke about the numerous unique opportunities for each partnership. The largest event every year is K-State football's Fort Riley Day.
"Fort Riley Day will be a Thursday-night game this year," explained Medved to the group. "It will be nationally televised. It's the game against Baylor, the co-Big 12 Champs, so we'll have to have lots of rowdy soldiers out here in uniform."
For three consecutive football seasons, K-State Athletics has hosted 500-plus Fort Riley soldiers at the annual Fort Riley Day game with seats donated by K-State sponsors and provided by K-State Athletics. From a free tailgate for all military members and their families before the game to cannons after every touchdown to the Pride of Wildcatland partnering with the Big Red One Band at halftime, Fort Riley Day is truly one of a kind.
But it isn't just Fort Riley Day that the soldiers and the athletes come together.
The equestrian team has done horseback riding with its partnership unit while the volleyball team recently spent its last day of spring practices playing volleyball outside in the sand with its partner, the Combat Aviation Brigade. Numerous teams have visited the fort and, from partaking in PT (physical training) to flying simulators, student-athletes and coaches have learned first-hand what it's like to be a U.S. Army soldier.
K-State Athletics offers a ticket donation program for soldiers. If a season ticket holder can not make it to a specific game, they can donate their tickets to a soldier and his or her family. Student-athletes have created videos for deployed soldiers, and they've sent them posters and letters during the holiday season.
"This is a great, unique relationship which provides opportunities for our student-athletes and coaches and the military personnel and their families that is unlike any other in in the whole country," said Scott Garrett, Associate Athletics Director for Ticketing and Fan Strategies. "We're proud to be partners and collaborate on ways to get military personnel here and to our events and then get our student-athletes and coaches on post. It's a strong partnership, and we're happy to be a part of it."
Beneficial to both sides, a special bond has grown through these partnerships between student-athletes and soldiers, and that bond will only continue to grow.
"I want to tell you why I think this is important," said Brigadier General Eric Wesley, the Deputy Commanding General for the 1st Infantry Division, to the group. "It's not just because we're fans of sports, it's not just because the Big Red One loves K-State, it really goes much deeper than that. When you think about it, the DNA of athletics goes way back to war fighting on a number of fronts.
"General Douglas MacArthur used to say, 'On the fields of friendly strife - athletics - are sown the seeds that on battle fields will bear fruits of victory.' He's saying athletics trains soldiers through leadership, training, preparation, readiness, and, most importantly, knowing and learning how to win as if it's in your very fiber, your molecular makeup. Sports, to a soldier, are absolutely necessary."
Here is a look at the 2015 K-State and Fort Riley Partnerships:
Baseball and the 2-1 General Aviation Support Battalion
Men's basketball and the 1-7 Field Artillery
Women's basketball and the 1st Sustainment Brigade
Equestrian and the Commanding General's Mounted Color Guard
Football and the 1-16 Iron Randers
Men's golf and the 82nd Engineers
Women's golf and the 541st Sustainment Support Battalion
Rowing and the 1st Engineers
Tennis and the 101 STB
Track and field and the 299th Brigade Support Battalion
Volleyball and the Combat Aviation Brigade