By Stephanie Hoff, 1st Inf. Div. PAOMarch 23, 2011
An Arabian proverb states, "Every day of your life is a page of your history."
For the Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division, those pages date back nearly 94 years when the division, commonly known as the "Big Red One," was formed.
More than 80 senior leaders of the 1st Inf. Div., accompanied by local Fort Riley community leaders, traveled to Chicago, Ill., March 6 to 9 to participate in a Senior Leaders' Conference at the 1st Division Museum at Cantigny Park.
The conference was designed to allow the attendees the opportunity to not only review the rich history of the division featured in the museum, but also to evaluate the recent experiences that occurred during the deployment of the division's headquarters to Iraq that concluded in January.
"This is ... a remarkable museum and we thought this would be a great place for us to come, offsite from Fort Riley, and reassemble much of the team that served together in Iraq, including some of our other government agency friends and those who've already changed station to other assignments," said Maj. Gen. Vincent Brooks, commanding general of the 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley "This is history that lives. This provides an opportunity to look ahead and look backward and capture lessons from our recent experiences and then to chart a course for the next four to five years for the Big Red One."
The 1st Division Museum, located on 500 acres of grounds known as Cantigny Park, features military equipment and statues honoring the division, as well as the former home of the late Col. Robert McCormick, who named the facilities after a life defining battle, the Battle of Cantigny in France, the first American victory during World War I.
The grounds now house the division's museum, which features displays of every major conflict the BRO has served in. served as a commander in the Big Red One during World War I.
"Other than Fort Riley, there is no other place more important to the Big Red One (than Cantigny Park)," said Paul Herbert, the museum's executive director. "We're proud of the great tradition of having military at Cantigny. It's more than a museum; it's an active, live, relationship with the museum and the Big Red One."
During their visit to the museum, the leaders participated in working groups that focused on such topics as Family concerns during deployments, communication between units serving in theater and at home and partnerships with Fort Riley's local communities.
"Not everybody was on the same page during this last year (when the division's headquarters deployed). There are all these pieces of the puzzle that may or may not fall into place. Fort Riley's influence is far greater than just Junction City or just Manhattan or even the other surrounding communities," said Ben Bennett, Geary County commissioner. "I think now we have a better understanding of why there were some communication problems between the communities and the fort."
In keeping with the rich history of the division that the museum honors, the unit's leadership donated several artifacts from its recent deployment to the museum, including a flag that was flown over the top of the division headquarters and rocket shells the unit recovered after attacks.
The "Victory Five" participated in the museums program, 'A Date with History' on the last evening of their visit.
Normally featuring live discussions with authors, historians and special guest speakers, the forum featured the division's top leaders providing personal accounts of the deployment and fielded questions from the attendees.
For 12-year-old James Imundo, who plans on one day joining the military, the chance to listen to the leaders about the deployment and meet with Brooks as well as Brig. Gen. David Petersen, the division's deputy commanding general - rear, the experience was one he will remember for years to come.
"This has been a great experience for him," said James' mother, Kim. "Getting to talk personally with the generals and hearing about their experiences during the deployment meant a great deal to him."
Whether it was reviewing artifacts that are nearly a century old or discussing topics that occurred within the past year, the division's senior leaders took away valuable lessons to help build a bigger and brighter future for their historic unit.
"Right now our mission is to reset and prepare for our next mission, but we've just come off a great deployment in southern Iraq," Brooks said. "Every deployment, for a unit, is an addition to the history that already exists ... to come back and renew our friendships and relationships and deposit our piece of history at (the 1st Division Museum); it has just been a tremendous experience."