K-State football, Fort Riley unit relationship fraught with meaning

Army 1st Sgt. Mikael McInroy and Capt. Jake Arbanas, of the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment at Fort Riley, Kansas. (Hallie Lucas | The Collegian)

As Kansas State head football coach Bill Snyder’s 25th season continues, Saturday’s game will also be Fort Riley Day in Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

This is the 10th year of the formal partnership between Fort Riley and the K-State football program.

The partnership began in 2006. Capt. Jake Arbanas, rear detachment commander for 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat team, in the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, said the team brings the flags of the unit, commonly referred to as the units’ “Colors,” to each game as part of the partnership.

“We give that to them so that when (the players) run out onto the field, they have our flags for division and the battalion,” Arbanas said. “(It’s) a visual representation of the partnership so that everyone else can see that they support us and we support them at the same time.”

Through this, the unit is represented at each home game, Arbanas said.

He said the K-State football coaches have a similar task to that of the commanders at the 1st Battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment in that both try to build teams and a “fighting force.”

“Partnering with them and interacting with them is a good way to keep us connected and bounce ideas off each other as far as good leadership qualities,” Arbanas said.

In June, the K-State football team went to Fort Riley to do an early morning physical training with the unit.

“We worked with them and talked with them and got to know their stories and tell them ours,” sophomore running back Justin Silmon said.

Arbanas said the military and college football teams attract similar demographics, particularly with regard to age.

“We get new soldiers, they get new players and student athletes,” Arbanas said. “It’s building teamwork, so we can kind of relate as far as what they’re trying to do.”

Sophomore defensive back D.J. Reed said soldiers and football players are similar in more than just age.

“They kind of go through what we go through,” Reed said. “Sometimes we don’t like doing what we’re doing, like workouts can be a pain in the butt sometimes, but you know they do it for a bigger cause. I was talking to one guy and he was telling me how he was doing it for his family so his family can be good in the long run. That’s what I’m doing, too. We’re pretty much doing the same thing but I’m playing football and he’s fighting for our country.”

Arbanas said the soldiers also like interacting with the players, especially for some of the soldiers who are around the same ages as the players.

“It’s cool for (the soldiers) to have the opportunity to talk to kids like them (who are) about the same age,” Arbanas said. “We see them out there and we live in the same general area, so we kind of can relate to what’s going on around (Manhattan and the Flint Hills).”

Snyder said the partnership with Fort Riley has been a very personal thing for him.

“We all tend, from time to time, to kind of take for granted what our military has done and why we can still sit in a room and chat the way we are,” Snyder said. “You think about the kind of sacrifices that are made. Athletics is a venue for sacrifice and learning and the value of personal sacrifice for the good of — and you think of what all those young soldiers and older soldiers have done, and that’s meaningful to me.”

Shelton grew up in the desert southwest. A native of Lancaster, California, he mostly grew up in south Phoenix, Arizona; Austin, Texas; and Colorado Springs, Colorado before moving to Kansas and graduating from Junction City High School. He started working as a news writer for the Collegian in 2009 before taking a three-year break from college. He returned to K-State in 2013 and has since worked for the news desk, feature desk, as a copy editor and now as a sports writer. He enjoys tap dancing, writing anything possible, reading court opinions and watching Arizona Coyotes hockey.