More than 3,000 people showed up at the Courtyard by Marriott in Junction City to show U-S Army officials their support of Fort Riley, in light of possible cut-backs to the military post. Seats were available for 1,200 at the Monday afternoon event, with a standing room only crowd filling the convention center–and an estimated 1,500 people standing outside and not able to get in. While Junction City and Manhattan communities were featured, areas from as far away as Wichita, Lawrence,Emporia, and Salina were also represented.
An official with the Junction City Area Chamber of Commerce indicates the official count going by the remaining “We are 1” stickers was 4,203. Another 3,000 plus individuals viewed online and a small parking lot sample showed license plates from 16 Kansas counties. KMAN aired the session live.
Presentations were made by Army representatives, as well as governmental and community leaders. Veterans and military spouses also had their say during the close to four hour session–with many of the comments leading to applause and in come cases, standing ovations.
Moderator of the event was Governor’s Military Council Executive Director John Armbrust, who first introduced Brigadier General Eric Wesley, who is currently serving as the Acting Commander of the Big Red One, in the absence of Major General Paul Funk, who is now stationed in Iraq. Wesley was met with applause as he talked about the synergy of Fort Riley.
Brig. Gen. Roger L. Cloutier Jr., who had a tour of Fort Riley earlier in the day, told the crowd he was humbled and honored to be at Fort Riley, admitting the Pentagon and Washington D.C. are a long way away. He explained he hoped to take back to the Secretary of the Army and Chief of Staff the “texture” and “granularity” of the post–admitting to the tough situation facing the Army with the law of the land, which is calling for a possible reduction from 490,000 troops to 450,000 or even an eventual 420,000. The war time peak had been 570,000.
There was also a pre-recorded message from Major General Funk, who described Fort Riley as the best place to train in the Army and the “best place to come home to.”
The entire Kansas Congressional Delegation offered comments, with U-S Senator Jerry Moran receiving applause when saying the Budget Control Act makes no sense when our country is in jeopardy. Senator Pat Roberts described proposed cutbacks as a meat ax approach to our military, when it ought to be done with a scalpel. Others making comments were Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins, and Congressmen Tim Huelskamp and Mike Pompeo.
Others making comments were Kansas’ Adjutant General, Major General Lee Tafanelli, School Superintendents from USD 475, Manhattan/Ogden’s USD 383, and Chapman’s School District. KSU President Kirk Schulz talked about the unique partnership between the university and Fort Riley, and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback told the Army officials, “We love Fort Riley and we want you to stay.” When the Governor suggested moving other operations here, the audience broke out in applause.
Other authorities such as John Broberg from Mercy Regional Health Center and Robbin Cole with Pawnee Mental Health talked about assisting troops and wonderful partnerships. And transportation matters, housing, quality of life, and low crime numbers were also mentioned by other city and community leaders.
A standing ovation followed a presentation by military spouse Christine Benne who said after 22 years and 10 moves with the Army, Kansas and the Flint Hills is home.
Following the planned presentation by local leaders, nearly 40 other members of the public spoke up with their own personal stories of the partnership between Fort Riley and the community and what it has meant to them.
A decision is expected by late spring or early summer regarding possible cut-backs nationwide.