Big Red One to return to Fort Riley
Fort Riley ? Nearly a decade after it left this central Kansas post for Germany, the 1st Infantry Division is slated to return to Fort Riley, the Pentagon said Friday.
The move would reunite the headquarters of the Big Red One with the 1st Brigade, which remained at Fort Riley when the headquarters was transferred to Germany in March 1995. Pentagon officials expect the post to add about 2,400 military and 440 civilian jobs.
“That will absolutely thrill the community. There has been speculation about that for some time,” said Rod Barnes, city manager in Junction City. “They are synonymous. Our people wanted (the division flag) back.”
The good news for Fort Riley was contained in the Pentagon’s release of a list of military installations targeted for closure.
The worst development for Kansas is the planned closing of the Kansas Army Ammunition Plant near Parsons. The Forbes Field air base south of Topeka, once considered in danger of closing, would gain 247 civilian and military employees.
The movement of additional soldiers to Fort Riley is expected to begin after the start of the 2006 fiscal year in October.
“You just don’t build houses overnight,” said John G. Montgomery, publisher of the Junction City Daily Union and a member of a state commission that led efforts to keep Kansas installations open. “You have to have people to build those houses and apartments.”
But Montgomery added: “I like that challenge. I’ve been living with the other challenge for 10 years, and that’s the shrinking of the community.”
The Pentagon’s recommendations must be approved by a nine-member commission, which must send the list to President Bush by Sept. 8. The president must accept or decline the entire list, sending it to Congress, which must sign off on the changes.
Fort Riley was already bracing for the arrival of a new brigade this summer. The 6th Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division was expected to bring an additional 3,400 soldiers and more than 1,000 civilian employees to the post.
Randy Tholstrup, owner of the Military Outlet in downtown Junction City, said most residents were optimistic the post would stay open after the new brigade was announced last July.
“They wouldn’t say they are coming if they are going to downsize,” Tholstrup said.
Fort Riley has about 11,540 soldiers and 12,300 family members, along with 5,540 civilian employees. The post adds $870 million to the state’s economy.
At Fort Riley, Col. Jay Simpson, the garrison commander, said the recommendation would bring the military population at the post to more 17,000.
“We are excited about this announcement,” he said. “I think it relieves people in the surrounding area that they know that Fort Riley is here for the future.”
Simpson said the post has plenty of room and that $600 million in new construction is planned in coming years. New soldiers should complete their move to Fort Riley in the next two to three years.
Barnes said that 3,000 single and multifamily housing units were already in the works, with the community building enough housing to support 4,500 more soldiers.
“Things are booming. We’re ready to go,” Barnes said.
In addition, the Legislature passed a law allowing the school districts around Fort Riley to count the additional students expected to arrive with the new brigade. State funding for schools would be increased to hire teachers and support structures.
The Big Red One’s return to Kansas is part of the repositioning of more than 70,000 U.S. soldiers from installations in Europe.
Fort Riley was home to the entire Big Red One from 1955 to 1995. The post was expanded by 50,000 acres in 1966 to provide training and maneuver space.
Already based at Fort Riley are the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, the 937th Engineer Group and the headquarters of the 24th Infantry Divisions (Mechanized), which command of three separate enhanced National Guard brigade located in the South.
Tholstrup said the influx of new soldiers would benefit local businesses.
“I think it just brings back the good old times in Junction City,” he said. “It was an honor to be known as the ‘Home of the Big Red One.’ It’s such a well-known flag.”
While community leaders see work ahead to provide housing and basic services for the new soldiers, Tholstrup must figure out what military gear they may need to supplement what the Army provides.
“But it’s a good problem to have,” he said.