Community and Fort Riley leaders have long celebrated the partnership that exists between the home of the 1st Infantry Division and the Flint Hills region. The strength of that relationship may have never been more obvious, though, than it was April 18 during a community forum at the Big Red One's headquarters.

For more than 90 minutes, dozens of political leaders, small business owners, educators and Flint Hills community members stood and voiced their support for "their" Soldiers, "their" division and "their" installation.

"Fort Riley is the energy and economic driver of this region," Loren Pepperd, the former mayor of Manhattan, Kan., said. "As Fort Riley goes, so goes our region goes."

The community members, who numbered more than 300, had gathered at Fort Riley for a community listening session where Brig. Gen. Donald MacWillie, assistant division commander for support, offered information about the Army's on-going effort to reduce end-strength by 80,000 Soldiers and redistribute resources to ensure optimum mission readiness.

"With the fiscal realities of our nation, the Department of Defense has to make some very tough decisions with regard to force structure," MacWillie said.

Designed to ensure that all communities facing potential troop reductions understand how the Army will make future stationing decisions, the April 18 community listening session was one of more than 20 that have been or will be conducted across the nation before final stationing decisions are made.

"You have always supported Fort Riley," MacWillie told the crowd. "That is will continue to be critically important as these decisions are made."

In attendance at the open forum was Lt. Col. Patricia Tilson, a member of the Army's Office of Strategy, Plans, and Policy. Tilson was sent by the Department of the Army to record the communities' comments and concerns in order to present Army leaders with a clear picture of the local impact of potential troop reductions.

"Your voice counts in these decisions," MacWillie said. "(Tilson) will take your feedback unfiltered to our Army leaders in Washington."

Packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the division headquarters' main conference room, community members fought for an opportunity to discuss the importance of Fort Riley and the 1st Infantry Division. During brief remarks, each highlighted partnership efforts of the past and promises of future support.

"We are in an area that loves and supports our military," John Armbrust, executive director of the Governor's Military Council, said. "That is why we do what we do."

Although MacWillie could not offer a specific timeline for troop stationing decisions, he assured the audience that the division will remain "as transparent as possible" in the days and months ahead.

"Tough decisions will have to be made," the general said. "We will walk this path together."