Men's Basketball Learns Unique Lesson in Teamwork

After taking a trip to Fort Riley last week to learn about and train with its partner unit, the 1-7 Field Artillery, the team can now say it has a new appreciation for its brothers in uniform. From dressing in heavy gear and shooting cannons to training in an intense obstacle course surrounded by smoke bombs, the Wildcats learned firsthand what it was like to be a member of team Army.
"To actually go through what they go through with all the gear on in the obstacle course and to push and pull everything, carry guns, it was pretty crazy to me," said senior forward Thomas Gipson. "I'm thankful for the opportunity because not a lot of people can say they've done that."
A once-in-a-lifetime experience, the special events were coordinated and specially put together by 1-7 FA 1st Sgt. Sean Dewitt.
"We put a lot of work into it," said 1st Sgt. Dewitt. "This is a partnership that we love to do, so if we're going to put on an event, we're going to put on a Class A event. We're no different from K-State in that manner. When we go out there, Coach Weber and their staff, they open up their doors. Everything we do with those guys is great and we want to give them the same thing."
After an afternoon filled with smoke bombs and as-real-as-it-gets training, there's no doubt Dewitt and the 1-7 FA provided K-State men's basketball with a "Class A" experience. 
"I've never done anything like this before, but I've always been interested to see how a tank would work," said sophomore guard Marcus Foster with an ear-to-ear smile after climbing out of a howitzer. "I'm glad I got to experience that firsthand. It's pretty cool to be out here with guys our age. They're the kind of guys who understand what we're going through, and they're showing us that they're overcoming it. Sometimes we think our lives are hard, but then they're out here in the heat with all this gear. They're doing this stuff every single day, and we're just out here for a couple of hours, so it really makes us appreciate guys like this."
The day started out with the Wildcats showing up to the 1-7 FA headquarters to collect their gear for the day. The players were each partnered with one of the unit's soldiers and borrowed that soldier's heavy Kevlar vest, helmet, gloves and eyewear for the day.
"I don't know how they do it, it's crazy," laughed Gipson when asked about carrying the gear, "but 60 pounds of gear, all day in the heat, and we were wearing long sleeves and sweat pants, it was painful. My back was hurting, my shoulders were hurting all day; I don't know how they do it." 
The team, once suited up in a new kind of uniform, then headed out to learn about the teamwork that goes into firing just one missile out of a cannon.
The basketball team met up with the 1-7 FA's team of forward observers who were set up in a field away from the cannons. The observers used special gear to measure the distance of a target and pinpoint its exact location to provide an accurate grid to send the self-propelled howitzer crews.
After visiting observation station, the team traveled to the range where four self-propelled howitzers were parked and ready for the players to experience how to pull the trigger and shoot off a cannon.
The players each took turns climbing into the howitzers and, only seconds later, a loud "BOOM" would be heard, the howitzer would rock and the target would be hit.
"For a guy like me, it's very cramped. They were talking about how if you're over 5-foot-9, you'd have to duck, so I hit my head," Foster said tapping the top of his helmet, glad he was wearing it. "But there was so much unity in the tank. The way they talked and made sure everything was right, and how fast they worked together, it was all teamwork. That inspires me to be able to do that on the court."
Once finished with the cannons, the team hung out with the soldiers. The 1-7 FA had been in the field training for nearly two weeks, so spending time with the K-State men's basketball team was an exciting change. 
"I think it's nice for K-State to get involved. It kind of puts a little bit of American pride back into our citizens," said Staff Sgt. Joshua Lockington, the 1-7 FA's 13 Bravo Company cannon crewman section chief. "What is important is that they see is that this job isn't easy. This is a 24-hour-a-day job. We're responsible for everything we do and we're responsible for the American people."
After spending the afternoon in the field and the heat wearing the heavy gear, the already tired Wildcats returned to the 1-7 FA headquarters. 
Already prepared and ready to go when they showed up, the team would now be facing an obstacle course like they've never seen before. Strategically designed by strength and conditioning coach and former Marine Jimmy Price, the Wildcats took part in numerous team-building tasks while wearing the heavy gear and carrying weapons.
"The obstacle course was designed to enhance leadership skills under stress," explained Price. "If you play on the road - Phog Allen Fieldhouse or any hostile environment - we believe when putting athletes in controlled stressful situations, it's good to see how they handle the adversity."
Split in to two teams, K-State men's basketball crawled on their bellies, flipped tires, pulled sleds and ropes and climbed over walls nearly 9-feet tall. The team did pushups and triceps dips, it carried water jugs and, through the colored smoke of the smoke bombs, ran and yelled and cheered each other on.
"The obstacle course, I think that was a great thing that we needed for this team," said Gipson. "People were leaders. We all stepped together and finished it. You couldn't do it by yourself, there always had to be somebody next to you and it can't just be a one-man thing in basketball either; it's a team thing. I think that's where the obstacle course helped us as far as leadership and teamwork."
Everyone got involved. The players battling injuries walked along and encouraged their teammates at every stop. Sometimes the seniors were the leaders, and sometimes the freshmen were the leaders, and in the end, the course was completed as a team.
On what he gained from the challenge, freshman guard Malek Harris said, "Togetherness. We were already a family, but the reality of it was that we were all pushing each other and just trying to make it through. We've got to be a team like that all the time otherwise we won't be successful, so that's what we got out of it: that family building."
The goal was to get the team out of its comfort zone and see if it could come together under adversity, and it did just that.
"Seeing all of our players finish and seeing that transformation and morale," said Price, "seeing their attitudes and seeing their confidence that they gained from accomplishing something difficult like that - because it was hard, it was really hard - that was pretty amazing."
Hot and sweaty, at the end of the obstacle course, the team had one last task - it lined up with the 1-7 FA soldiers and marched in cadence to the unit's dinner truck. When the day was finally over, and the Wildcats sat down with the unit to eat dinner and think back on the day, the team had garnered a new sense of togetherness from its partner unit.
"You gain so much respect for them, just being around them for a day I realize how hard they work every day," Harris said. "Some of the stuff we do doesn't compare with it. It makes me respect and value what they do for us even more."
The K-State men's basketball team poses for a photo with Fort Riley's 1-7 Field Artillery after shooting cannons. (Photo by: Kelly McHugh)
Brandon Bolden crawles under his teammates in the first of many obstacles (Photo by: Cori Pinkett)
Brian Rohleder encourages teammate Marcus Foster to stay strong through the 1-7 FA's obstacle course. (Photo by Cori Pinkett)
Nino Williams completes the 1-7 FA's obstacle course while soldiers and teammates look on. (Photo by Cori Pinkett)

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