A hush fell over Fort Riley’s Victory Field for a casing of the colors on Wednesday, preceding the Central Command deployment of 500 soldiers to Iraq to help eliminate the threat from ISIL.
The ceremony, which symbolizes the deployment of soldiers, is a long-standing military tradition. Surrounded by flags from around the country and cannon fire, soldiers listened to words from Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, 1st Infantry Division commanding general.
“You look out on that field, you see the colors snapping, the soldiers at attention and you see the resoluteness of our nation,” Funk said. “That is America’s signature. Our storied history, as our nation’s first division, has never been stronger or more widely recognized. And soon, the Big Red One will add a new chapter to its legacy. I’m incredibly proud of our Big Red One soldiers.”
Soldiers from the Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion will advise and assist Iraq security forces to defeat the Islamic state. With Fort Riley divisions all over the world, from Kuwait to Africa, Funk said Fort Riley has never been busier.
“Our uniform will once again be in the arena,” Funk said. “As the nation’s first division, we put duty first and seize victory in every mission we are assigned. As a team of America’s sons and daughters, we carry freedom to the darkest corners of the world. And as Big Red One soldiers, we always remain brave, responsible and on-point.”
Though just weeks before the 1st Infantry Division was preparing for a mission in Libya, plans were changed following new orders. Funk stated that the news of the deployment came as no surprise to him, as Big Red One is traditionally the first and foremost division for the U.S. Army.
“This is the nation’s first division,” Funk said. “We are, in fact, ready, we’ve been ready. We train to do this. This is what we get paid to do and we’re good at it.”
As he is deploying with his soldiers, Funk will hand over the reins of Fort Riley to Brig. Gen. Eric J. Wesley, 1st Infantry Division deputy commanding general, for support.
Wesley, commissioned as an armor officer from the U.S. Military Academy in 1986, has been assigned to Fort Riley three previous times and was most recently the director of plans at the ISAF Joint Command in Afghanistan.
Command Sgt. Maj. Michael A. Grinston, the division’s senior noncommissioned officer, will also deploy with Funk and Big Red One soldiers. Command Sgt. Maj. Maurice Jackson of the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team will fill Grinston’s position in his absence.
“They will be the continuity for Fort Riley and the Flint Hills region,” Funk said. “I have no doubt that they will ensure we remain brave, resilient, responsible and on-point for the nation.”
Gov. Sam Brownback was present at the ceremony to show his support of the soldiers.
“I want to say how proud I am of the Big Red One and Maj. Gen. Funk and the forces that will be going over and headquartering the fight against ISIS,” Brownback said. “These are seasoned troops. They know what they’re doing. The task is critically important.”
Also in attendance was Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp.
“(These ceremonies) are a reminder to the soldiers and for those like myself who make these policies to understand the sacrifices and the history of how Big Red One is so integral to Junction City and the area, but also to the whole Army,” Huelskamp said.
As the 1st Infantry Division Band played a medley of songs, including the Fort Riley song and the Army song, the ceremony concluded with Funk’s words still hanging in the air.
“Big Red One soldiers, I’m so very proud of you,” Funk said. “The hard work you do has shown. Day in and day out, you are prepared for moments like this. We are ready. You are ready You are brave. You are responsible and you are on-point, for our nation, unit and family. Make this nation proud.”