Fort Riley has hosted an annual Fall Apple Day Festival annually since 1987, records indicate. The festival serves as an open house for the Army post in northeast Kansas. For 33 years, to the appreciation of a steadily-increasing crowd of community members, Soldiers and Civilians of the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley have shared their experiences with their neighbors and family members. But the COVID-19 pandemic required changes to the format in 2020.
Maj. Gen. D.A. Sims, commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley, discussed the format change, “I asked the team to look at a special project. Fall Apple Day Festival is near and dear to our hearts just as I know it is to yours. Of course, this is a year like no other. Rather than canceling Fall Apple Day, we wanted to bring you your installation, your division in a little different way.”
That different approach to the 2020 34th annual Fall Apple Day Festival meant that the event went virtual. Fort Riley’s virtual Fall Apple Day Festival premiered Oct. 3 on the new Fort Riley Fall Apple Day Festival Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/FortRileyFallAppleDay and remains available for archive viewing.
With three locations serving as hubs of activity and a central control room, live streams and recorded videos were combined to give viewers a taste of what the Apple Day Festival normally has to offer.
Live elements included several of the more traditional apple day events, such as pie sales from the Historical and Archaeological Society of Fort Riley, and performances by the Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard and the 1st Infantry Division Band.
Sgt. Roy Riley, a Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard trooper assigned to the unit for 3 months, said “it feels pretty good to showcase what we do throughout the year.” The CGMCG performed three modified demonstrations and a cavalry charge to conclude the virtual event.
Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Champagne, a vocalist with the 1st Infantry Division Band, said she and other band members appreciated the venue: “we still get to reach out to the community regardless of this environment that we’re all operating in, right now.” The 1st Infantry Division Band performed 3 songs then the Big Red One and Army songs immediately before the CGMCG’s cavalry charge.
Professionals at the Warrior Zone and SpareTime Interactive Entertainment Centers hosted contests and games specially designed for the virtual audience. For COVID-19 mitigation, patrons - limited to 75 at each facility – were allowed in the facilities after completing hand sanitizing and temperature checks on entry. Guests, game participants and broadcast teams wore face coverings whenever 6 feet of physical distancing could not be maintained. Feature events include an apple bobbing contest and an apple pie eating contest. Fort Riley Fire Department firefighter Jeremiah Wisdom edged fellow firefighters and Soldiers to win the pie-eating contest at the Warrior Zone, while Kameron Blair and Wyatt Van Zlike tied for first place in the apple bobbing contest at SpareTime Interactive Entertainment.
Pre-recorded video content featured the military working dogs, equipment demonstrations to include M1 tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, helicopters and more.
The members of HASFR raised scholarship funds, selling merchandise and apple pie by the slice with ice cream at the Custer House near Cavalry Parade Field. Those who stopped by the Custer House during the event could also pick up brochures for a driving tour of historic sites on the post.
The virtual apple day festival was a success and valuable lessons were learned to be used in future productions.
“The post came together really well to come up with an alternative, so you can still see what Apple Day is all about and get a historic feel for what Fort Riley has to offer,” said Kim Burke, HASFR Vice President.
Some of the elements used to host this year's event can be used to improve future events.
Colonel Will McKannay, Fort Riley Garrison Commander, said, “Virtual Fall Apple Day Festival was a complete success and I couldn't be more proud of the garrison team and installation partners for their efforts. If next year's festival is back to normal, there are many elements from this year that we will incorporate to continue to improve on this tradition.”