A partnership became stronger Jan. 30. More than 150 Soldiers serving with the 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division showed up at Bramlage Coliseum, home of the Kansas State University Wildcats men's basketball team, to support the Wildcats on ESPN's nationally televised College GameDay show.
The hour-long show is a pre-game broadcast, featuring college basketball analysts Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps, Reece Davis and Hubert Davis, who hash out the day's predictions and highlight the stand-out players in the National Collegiate Athletic Association's basketball program.
The ESPN crew travels from city to city during basketball season, hosting the show every Saturday. It also gives fans the opportunity to show their support for the teams they love on live TV. This particular Saturday, the GameDay crew appeared at Bramlage, which hosted a game later that evening between the Wildcats and their rivals, the University of Kansas Jayhawks.
Prior to the GameDay festivities, the Soldiers filled their section of the stands wearing Army Combat Uniforms and showcased their Army and Wildcat pride with large poster boards.
The more than 8,000 GameDay attendees began to chant, "USA" as a thank you to the "First Lightning" Soldiers, who recently redeployed from a year-long mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Before the deployment, The Soldiers of 1st Bn., 7th FA Regt. and the student athletes of K-State's men's basketball team began a partnership.
"This partnership is huge for the community. Coach [Frank] Martin is the driving force in helping us establish that," said Lt. Col. Robert Bailes, commander of the First Lightning Battalion. "He helps his players understand what we do in the military and helps our Soldiers understand what a basketball team goes through, what a basketball player goes through - and it's helped bring the community closer."
Since the partnership was formed, the players have had the opportunity to witness and participate in the Soldiers' combat training before the Soldiers deployed.
The GameDay event was another way for the students and Soldiers to grow the partnership.
"The players loved seeing the Soldiers out here," said Andy Assaley, director of basketball operations at K-State. "Everything that Lt. Col. Bailes and the rest of the group have done, it means a lot to us. It's a very special bond; they motivate and inspire us."
As the students and Soldiers had the chance to show the nation their enthusiasm for K-State basketball, the Soldiers also scored a memory they will hold on to for a lifetime.
"It was awesome; we were really motivated supporting K-State when they needed it," said Spc. Andrew Stenback, of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Bn., 7th FA Regt. "It's a big game for them tonight, and we're just here to help them out."
When the show was over, it was confirmed the fans and Soldiers broke the record of attendance for the program's history - more than 8,000 Wildcat supporters.
"We're so honored to be here and for us to be a part of this real historic celebration for the university and the partnership between Fort Riley and the university," Bailes said. "It's incredible. The team has been our biggest supporter when we were down range in Iraq for a year, and we want to show a little bit of that support back to them."