A Wildcat victory wasn't the only reason fans at Bill Snyder Family Stadium were cheering Sept. 15 as Kansas State University hosted its annual Fort Riley Day football game against the University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners in Manhattan, Kansas, a contest the Wildcats won 41-17.
Before and during the game, Soldiers and fans honored the decade-long partnership between the 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley and K-State with "Big Red One" Soldiers showing fans their military vehicles and equipment and service members taking part in pre-game events on the field.
"We were again honored to have the men and women of Fort Riley with us for last Saturday's football game with the University of Texas at San Antonio," said Bill Snyder, K-State head football coach and member of the College Football Hall of Fame. "Our longstanding relationship with the fort and its Soldiers is one we deeply cherish. Every member of our program has the greatest amount of respect and appreciation for each and every one of them and their families for the great sacrifices they make to keep each of us safe."
This year, a flyover was conducted by the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Inf. Div., in which Soldiers flew an Apache, Black Hawk and Chinook over Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
"It was fantastic," said Maj. Jonathan Spikes, commander of Company C, 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Inf. Div., who served as the air mission commander for the flyover from the Black Hawk. "It's something that I've always wanted to do."
Spikes is no stranger to K-State. His family moved to Manhattan in the early 1990s and his father, who died last year, worked in the university's College of Education for 28 years. Sparks graduated from the K-State Army ROTC program as a distinguished military graduate in 2007 with a commission in the Medical Service Corps.
"It's a special relationship there," Spikes said of the connection between the Army installation and the university. "Growing up in Manhattan, I've seen the relationship between Fort Riley and Kansas State evolve, and it has evolved in the right direction.
"I think 1st Inf. Div. and K-State go to great lengths to ensure a mutually beneficial partnership in our region, and I think they do a really good job of it."
Representing the "Big Red One" on the field by leading the Wildcats onto the field were Maj. Gen., John S. Kolasheski, 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley commanding general; Col. Stephen Shrader, Fort Riley commander; and the 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley Soldier of the Year, Spc. Zachary Cockrill, 97th Military Police Battalion.
"Days like today give an opportunity for the military and the rest of society to grow as one," Cockrill said. "Being able to take the college football team out onto the field was very exhilarating… I was very humbled to be a part of it."
Some Soldiers from the division had a front-row seat to the game, but got even closer to the action every time K-State scored, coming down onto the field to do a number of pushups equal to the home team's score.
"As a Soldier, being at the base right up the road, and the college being in close proximity, the community here has taken us in as their own and we're a part of the culture here," said Staff Sgt. Darian Keller, 9th Financial Support Management Unit, Special Troops Battalion, 1st Inf. Div. Sustainment Brigade, one of the Soldiers chosen to do pushups during Fort Riley Day. "It's awesome that they accept us here like that."
Keller, a football fan who had never been to a college game, volunteered for the on-field task.
First Lt. Justin Rogers, executive officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 299th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., has been to his share of college football games, having played for the Roadrunners in 2010, the first year of the school's program.
"This place is awesome," Rogers said. "They really love Soldiers, they really make you feel like you're a part of the team. This whole stadium, this atmosphere, it's crazy."
Rogers said he saw parallels between being on a football team and being a Soldier.
"Being a football player, you have to rely on your guys all the time, early morning workouts, film, practice," he said. "Same thing as an officer and a Soldier. You've just got to build a strong team.
"As long as you have a strong team and a strong bond, you can do anything."