A year of ups and downs for Fort Riley

By Rose Schneider

The year 2012 was a rollercoaster of emotion for those with ties to Fort Riley. The new year brought hundreds of military vehicles and two new schools, launched thousands overseas for battle and left numerous families broken with the deaths of loved ones.

Deployment for Fort Riley soldiers started in April with the 1st Infantry Division headquarters battalion, called the Task Force Defender, and the 1ID, known as the Big Red One, assuming missions in eastern Afghanistan. The Task Force Defender’s assignment was a year-long tour focusing on security and support of Parawn province hoping to help Afghans lead their own security, government and development. For the Big Red One, the deployment meant operating as Combined Joint Task Force-1 to control operations throughout RC-East, an area roughly the size of Virginia. The territory included 14 provinces, 7.5 million Afghans and 288 miles of mountainous Pakistan border. In Afghanistan, The Big Red One joined 32,000 coalition troops, which included five U.S. brigade combat teams and troops from nine NATO countries while working with Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

In May the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division (4IBCT/1ID), better known as the ‘Dragon Brigade’ sent 3,000 soldiers to join other Fort Riley troops in eastern Afghanistan. This was the first time the brigade had been sent to Afghanistan; its soldiers had been previously deployed to Iraq twice.

In late August more than 300 1ID soldiers assigned to the 1st Sustainment Brigade joined other Big Red One soldiers in eastern Afghanistan to provide U.S. and Joint Task Force Coalition Forces with support service including transportation, supply, signal and other operations. It was the brigade’s third deployment since being activated in 2007 at Fort Riley; however, it was their first deployment to Afghanistan.

In June, the 4IBCT/1ID transferred authority with the 172D Infantry Brigade in eastern Afghanistan’s Paktika province. By doing so, they were able to take charge of advising and assisting the local ANSF and government.

September brought yet another deployment for soldiers at Fort Riley. The 1st Engineer Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division (ABCT/1ID) soldiers known as the ‘Die Hard’ soldiers departed for a nine-month deployment to eastern Afghanistan to conduct a multi-function operation of combat and construction engineering.

As a result of deployments launched in 2012, Fort Riley lost 10 soldiers, seven of them killed in action.

In March, Staff Sgt. Jamie Jarboe, 27, a scout with the 4th Squadron, 4th Calvary Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team (HBCT) died in Topeka from injuries sustained in Afghanistan. He had served two tours previously in Iraq.

In May, Staff Sgt. Zachary Hargrove, 32, a wheeled vehicle mechanic assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 84th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Battalion, 1ID, was found unresponsive in his living quarters during his first Afghanistan deployment.

In July, Sgt. Erik N. May, 26, an infantryman assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4IBCT/1ID was found unresponsive and later pronounced dead at a medical facility in eastern Afghanistan. It was his first deployment to Afghanistan. Pfc. Cody O. Moosman, 24, an infantryman assigned to the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 4IBCT/1ID, died during his first deployment when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire, in Gayan Alwara Mandi, Afghanistan.

In August, Jesus Jonathan Lopez, 22, an infantryman and 1st Lt. Todd Labka, 25, both assigned to the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 1ID were killed in Paktika Province, Afghanistan when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device. It was the first deployment for both soldiers.

In November Sgt. Channing Hicks, 24, an infantryman assigned to 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 4IBCT/1ID, and Spc. Joseph Richardson, 23, a 1ID soldier were killed when enemy forces attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device and small arms fire in Paktika Province, Afghanistan. Hicks had previously served two deployments to Iraq with the 1ID. This was Richardson’s first deployment to Afghanistan. Staff Sgt. Matthew Stiltz, 26, an infantryman assigned to the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 4IBCT/1ID, died during his third deployment when his unit was attacked with indirect fire near Zerok. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of staff sergeant. Capt. James D. Nehl, 37, an infantry officer assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4IBCT/1ID, died during his first deployment to Afghanistan when his unit when enemy forces attacked his until with small arms fire in Ghazni Province.

In terms of equipment, Fort Riley received quite the makeover in 2012. In April it received what was called a ‘game changer.’ —the Gray Eagle — an unmanned aircraft system, which provides support for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition for ground forces. April also brought nearly 200 M1A2 SEP V2 Abram Tanks and M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles to the soldiers of the Big Red One’s 2HBCT. Each of the new vehicles delivered to Fort Riley had the latest equipment the army had to offer.

In September the 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1ID received a CH-47F Chinook Helicopter. The F Model Chinook incorporates a modernized cockpit and upgraded displays from the dials to computer monitors increasing the pilot’s situational awareness.

In December soldiers from the 2ABCT/1ID, known as the ‘Dagger Brigade’ conduced a live fire exercise using Apache helicopters and the M1A2 SEP V2 Abram Tanks and M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles received in April. The exercise was important because it allowed the Dagger Brigade to use the equipment in a controlled setting while training for a deployment to Africa in 2013. The African deployment will focus on maintaining combat skills incase there are contingencies while building capacity with the host nation’s security forces.

Soldiers also had some fun in 2012 while hosting the 11th annual U.S. Cavalry Association’s National Cavalry Competition. The competition brought roughly 100 civilian re-enactors and soldiers from across the United States to compete in combat and military horsemanship, mounted pistol and saber and military field jumping.

Lastly in 2012, Fort Riley opened the Army’s first Residential Communities Initiative School in September for 1ID and Fort Riley families, named LTG Richard J. Seitz Elementary School.

The school became USD 475’s 15th elementary school with many amenities including LEED silver certification.

Fort Riley and USD 475 were also awarded a $35.2 million federal grant in December for a new middle school. The new school will eliminate issues of overcrowding and outdated technology. It is set to open in 2014.

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