Established in 1917, during the height of World War I, the 1st Infantry Division has played a pivotal role in the lethality and advancement of the U.S. Army. The Big Red One, so called for the red numeral that has adorned its shoulder patch since 1918, now sits in the Flint Hills area of Kansas.
Often the first unit of the Army to deploy and engage the enemy, the division has been characterized by an ability to learn systematically from experience and to distill this learning into techniques and methods to improve battlefield performance. Central to this learning is the training of Soldiers and the development of competent leaders at all levels.
The 1st Inf. Div.’s contributions to the Nation’s defense not only offer insight into the history of the Army and the United States but through continued readiness and modernization, provide a vision for the future of Soldiers, warfighting mastery, unit deployment capabilities, and community.
“This is a place filled with people that know how important the military is,” said U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.). “It’s filled with people who want to help make our Nation’s Soldiers successful in their careers during their time at Fort Riley.”
Within any effective Army unit stands a ready and effective Soldier, something that is no stranger to the men and women who wear the Big Red One patch. In addition to training, the division has implemented multiple programs and resources to ensure that each Soldier (and their family members) are more than just physically fit.
Implemented in 2020, Operation Victory Wellness is a comprehensive, enduring operation to make every Soldier, Airman, Civilian, and family member more resilient and more robust across the five dimensions of strength: physical, emotional, social, family, and spiritual.
The Big Red One Year of Family (BYOF) is a year-long campaign within 1st Inf. Div’s Operation Victory Wellness focused on building the strength and resilience of Families, educating Families about available resources, and showing appreciation for Families' continued support.
“People are what makes us the Army that we are,” said 40th Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. James C. McConville. “Families have one of the toughest jobs, and we can not do what we do as Soldiers without them.”
The division is also actively engaged in supporting the ‘Meet Your Army’ initiative, which gives Soldiers opportunities to engage with civilian community members to assist and promote the Army’s recruiting efforts. In August 2022, the 1st Inf. Div. directly supported recruiting efforts during six events across the Midwest including the Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Military Appreciation Day and the Great Lakes Grand Prix in Michigan City, Indiana.
The division’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, the ‘Devil Brigade’, recently completed an 11-month deployment rotation to Europe in support of the European Defense Initiative’s Atlantic Resolve mission.
Deploying over 3,000 Soldiers and 2,700 pieces of equipment by air and sea into four major European seaports, 1st ABCT exemplified precise synchronization, coordination, and communication by moving from ‘fort to port’ in under 10 days.
Proving its ability to adapt at a moment’s notice, the Devil Brigade’s mission in Europe quickly changed in February 2022 with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Devil’s formed the vanguard of Operation European Assurance, Deterrence, and Reinforce, and had over 6,000 Soldiers in 10 European countries by the month’s end.
“The Army sent the Big Red One over to Europe,” said McConville. “And I had the chance to go over to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland, and what I can tell you is where American Soldiers went, they were welcomed. We often like to say, ‘Where America soldiers, freedom follows’ but what I saw was, ‘Where America soldiered, freedom remained’. That’s the difference these Soldiers are making overseas.”
1st ABCT departed Europe this past July to return to Kansas, but the division's headquarters currently sits in Europe. The division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team is completing a deployment readiness exercise at Fort Irwin’s National Training Center.
With its units in a well-versed battle rhythm of completing overseas rotations, the 1st Inf. Div. prides itself on its rapid deployment capabilities, which is heavily attributed to the division’s home location of Fort Riley.
Only two-and-a-half hours from the center of the continental U.S., Fort Riley resides near three airports, has two immediately accessible deployment centers, and houses its own railhead operations yard.
With both Salina Regional Airport and Topeka Regional Airport (formally known as Forbes Field) one hour away, and Manhattan Regional Airport only 10 minutes from post, the division can move Soldiers and equipment quickly and efficiently.
The post’s Camp Funston area has its own deployment center for manifesting Soldiers, Welcome Home redeployment ceremonies, and weighing equipment. Less than a block away is the post’s railhead operations yard, which has day and nighttime capabilities, three generator set locomotives, and a Union Pacific main line with a throughput of over 250 railcars per day.
As the 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley continues at the forefront of modernization and readiness, it's still working to make advancements that will only add to the note-worthy history of the Big Red One.