Fort Riley — Thousands of soldiers laced up running shoes instead of boots and hit the asphalt just after dawn Tuesday to help celebrate the Army's oldest division and honor members who have died in combat.
The 5-mile run around Custer Hill by 12,000 soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division was part of its first Victory Week celebration. The division's headquarters is there, as is most soldiers' housing.
Fort Riley expects the weeklong celebration to draw thousands of families, former soldiers and supporters to the post. The week is heavy on athletic competitions, but a ceremony to honor fallen soldiers is scheduled for Thursday. The speaker for that event is Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, soon to be the top U.S. commander in Iraq.
"We're going to get to see a lot of the family members, some of the wounded warriors, and that's an important thing," said Lt. Col. Eric Timmerman, commander of an infantry battalion. "It's kind of a closure for us and I think it's a new beginning with a bunch of new leadership."
Some soldiers participating in the week's event returned in recent months from duty in Iraq. Staff Sgt. Todd Hegeman and Sgt. Ed Herring were part of a battalion that spent 15 months in Baghdad and saw 12 soldiers die.
Hegeman is proud of his battalion's service - and says it did enough work for two units of the same size. But, he acknowledged, "We got our nose bloodied."
Herring added, "Based on the number of causalities, it wasn't exactly a good deployment."