FORT RILEY, Kan. - Country Stampede was a special time for Spc. Marc Wheeler. He used the four-day country music festival as one of the last opportunities to hang out with his friends and do something out of the ordinary before he deploys in August.

"It was my first time, but it was an absolute blast for me," Wheeler, Special Troops Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said. "My friends had said that they all wanted to make it a cool experience for me since this was probably the only time I'll get go to Stampede. I really appreciate that my friends helped me out, so I could enjoy an experience like that before I left."

The annual event at Tuttle Creek State Park in Manhattan draws about 150,000 people, and a large portion of them camping there throughout the festival. It was held June 25 to 28, and was headlined by Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley, Phil Vassar and Creedence Clearwater Revisited.

Wheeler said that Bentley's Friday night performance was the highlight of the festival for him.

"He seemed like he really enjoyed playing for his fans," Wheeler said. "And he gave a salute to the military, which means a lot to me."

The last day of the festival was Military Appreciation Day. All active duty and retired military personnel were invited to pick up free day passes for themselves and their Families.

"It really is an honor to be able to do that," said Wayne Rouse, president and general manager of the festival. "It's a great way to support the troops. We're very patriotic and appreciate the fact that we're able to have this event because of the sacrifices the military has made."

Also, 500 VIP seats were given to Families of deployed Soldiers on Thursday.

"I come from a family with a strong military background, so just the ability to say 'thank you' in a way that improves the quality of life for not only the Soldiers, but also for their Families," Rouse said.

Rouse said he also appreciates the volunteer help he gets from Fort Riley Soldiers.

"I know that when a Fort Riley Soldier volunteers that they're very well mannered," he said. "It's always 'yes, sir' or 'no, sir.' They're great at following through. The structure that they have is just amazing."

A Soldier that volunteered at the event said that he had a great time.

"It's a great learning experience for us all," said Pvt. Joseph Scheck, Signal Company, Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion. "We get to interact with everybody here and we get to see the concert for free."

Scheck said that he really enjoyed seeing Tim McGraw, who he said is his favorite singer of all time.

"It was a good time. If you weren't here, you missed out," Scheck said.

Page last updated Wed July 1st, 2009 at 16:13