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Director of Junction City, Kansas, Military Affairs Council retires

By Suet Lee-Growney | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | December 08, 2017

     John Seitz, recently retired director of the Military Affairs Council in Junction City, Kansas, said although he has left his position as the liaison between Fort Riley and Junction City, he is not going anywhere in terms of his involvement with the “Big Red One.”

     “I just like doing things to help Soldiers and families,” Seitz said. “It’s kind of my place. And I’ll keep doing that stuff, but I’m not going to do it for the chamber — I’m going to do it when John Seitz wants to do it.”

     To Seitz, his job wasn’t really a job. He enjoyed being around the military community of Fort Riley.

     “I am in love with the 1st Infantry Division,” he said. “I always like being around Soldiers and that’s a fun part of my life and of my job, or I guess it’s a job.”

 

BEFORE MILITARY AFFAIRS COUNCIL

     Seitz, a retired Army colonel, graduated from the University of Missouri ROTC program with a degree in public administration and branched field artillery, he spent almost 30 years in military service. He served in many field artillery units including the 6th Field Artillery, 8th Battalion, 1st Inf. Div. during Vietnam; and 8th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Battalion, 25th Inf. Div., in which he took battalion command.

     He served two tours in Vietnam, one with the 1st Inf. Div and another with the XXIV Corps; as director of course development and training at the Field Artillery School in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. In 1982 he was chief of readiness group in Fort Riley and in 1984 to 1985, he became deputy post commander of Fort Riley.

     When he got out of the military, he spent more than 27 years working in the civilian sector, but it took him a while to find the right gig.

     “I spent a lot time as a civilian doing civilian stuff,” Seitz said. “When I got out of the Army, I retired in 1988, I decided to look for the perfect job ... I didn’t find it, it found me.”

     A former boss thought it would be a good fit for him to be part of a small information technology company conducting a study about federal emergency preparedness.

     After that job, Seitz’s company went into a contract with the U.S. Army Reserve where he interacted with Soldiers again. This was during Operation Desert Storm. It was at this job that he was reminded of how much he enjoys being around Soldiers.

     “I enjoyed doing that,” he said. “It was fun going and talking to Soldiers. It’s a civilian job asking what (Soldiers) thought, and, of course, they’d tell you whatever they really felt because they felt like there were no holds barred on it. And that was good to be able to hear their story.”

     But that season of interacting with Soldiers and listening to them came to pass. Seitz was hired by a different company to teach military contracting officers how to use procurement system called Professional Desktop-Defence.

     “My background was never in contracting procurement and I’ve never used a laptop computer — and that’s what I was using to teach,” he said. “It was kind of exciting. I was in my 50s. I was always just one lesson ahead of the class. But I enjoyed doing it … But (my boss) was convinced that I can handle it, so she had 19 people working for me at a help desk and helping people with procurement problems, but I survived it.”

     Next, Seitz took on a new position at the same company as proposal writer in contract closeouts. And it was then when he decided to return to Kansas.

     “My uncle (Lt. Gen. Richard J. Seitz) convinced me to come out here,” he said. “I talked to him every week and he said, ‘John, you ought to come back in, you’ve got to come to Kansas.’ And finally I said yes in May 2010 and I came out here — smartest thing I’ve ever done. I loaded up my truck and pulled a trailer here with all my stuff and moved in with my uncle for a while.”

 

DIRECTOR OF MILITARY AFFAIRS COUNCIL

      In 2011, Ben Bennett, Geary County commissioner, asked him if he would help in military affairs in Junction City, Seitz said.

     “I should have asked some questions about what was expected, but didn’t,” he said. “First board meeting I went to, Mark Edwards, who is (civilian aide to the) secretary of the Army and a good friend of mine and has been the family attorney for years, nominated me to be the MAC director and it was unanimous and I didn’t even know what I was getting into.”

     This was when the chamber of commerce was in merging a few of its branches beneath them. Seitz said he read the cards he was dealt and made the best out of the situation despite not getting paid for the first year.

     “I accepted the fact that we needed to make it a success because I thought it was a good idea,” he said. “So for 14 months I worked without any pay … It seemed like the right thing to do, we got a limited budget and I didn’t want my salary to be an obstacle to the consolidation working.”

     All that hard work and time put in paid off because Seitz grew the MAC to what it is today, including the MAC breakfasts, which began with about 60 people to at least 100 people now, the daily BRO welcomes at Fort Riley and more.

     “(Seitz) is the voice of Junction City for the military,” said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Young. “He goes to the newcomers brief that is done weekly and is the representative from Junction City there. He does the daily welcome with new arriving Soldiers. They are briefed daily on the local area and also Fort Riley.”

     Apart from the breakfasts and welcomes, the thing Seitz said he is proudest of is fostering a good relationship with Janet Nichols, military community liaison for the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce in Manhattan, Kansas.

     “I think my best accomplishment is developing a working relationship with my counterpart in Manhattan,” Seitz said. “Janet Nichols is one of my favorites and we work together really well. (Nichols) and I do everything the same way, we don’t try to compete one city against the other, we work together. She comes to my MAC breakfasts, and I go to her Military Relations (Committee) luncheons and it’s such good partnership. And we’ve grown it and we’re involved in more things together. It’s just been a very good thing. That’s the thing I will probably miss most is conspiring with Janet.”

     Young said one of the best things Seitz has done is growing the military relationship with Fort Riley with Manhattan.

     “As a team, (Nichols and Seitz) have done a lot of great things, the breakfasts, the luncheons, they co-sponsor things together, but they’re more of a regional than they are Manhattan of Junction City specific,” Young said. “There wasn’t always that kumbaya between that two cities … When I as the post sergeant major here in the 90s, the only thing these two towns meant to me was the blotter report. There was no kumbaya as far as I was concerned … He was a big factor in changing that. He and (Nichols) have created an environment where the communities in Fort Riley have a better understanding of each other’s concerns and needs.”

     Nichols said she will miss working with Seitz. The two collaborate most on two specific events: his breakfast and her Victory Week lunch. It was through their collaboration their programs expanded.

     “He’s a really great guy, a real salt-of-the-earth type person, very easy to work with, very friendly; it’s been a pleasure,” she said. “I’m really going to miss him. I’m really happy for him that he’s retiring, but it’s bittersweet — he’s a good guy … I’m going to miss doing projects with him, I’m going to miss coming up with ideas on how we can best collaborate and make the best of our programing. He’s just been really great to work with.”

      With Seitz retiring, Young said the community, Soldiers and families will lose a vital connection with the past.

     “They’re going to lose his historical knowledge because he knows all the commanders, he knows what’s going on in Fort Riley,” Young said. “That takes time. They’re losing the connection because military community accepted John as the Junction City spokesman, you have to earn that respect.

 

SOLDIER FOR LIFE

     Seitz’s dedication is the epitome of Soldier for life. According to Young, Seitz never really retired.

     “If you are past military, present military, if you need help, (Seitz) will help,” Young said. “He never really retired, like most of us. When we retire we have a choice, we can walk away from the military or we can stay connected. In (Seitz) and my case, we both decided to stay connected and be part of the extended military family.”

      Nichols said Soldiers in, transitioning out of and retired from the military can learn a lot from Seitz’s attitude toward life and the military.

     “(We can learn) from his boundless energy and positive attitude and unrelenting support to the 1st Infantry Division,” Nichols said. “I mean the man’s license plate says ‘BIGRED1,’ I’m serious. He is just an unwavering support for the division, for the mission, for the people, for the families, for the Soldiers; he really is an icon and done a lot of great stuff.”

     Seitz will still be at Fort Riley events and serve on the board of many of the military-affiliated associations he’s part of, particularly 1st Inf. Div. Artillery since he is an Old Trooper attached with that unit.

     “I’m very involved in DIVARTY,” he said. “I was an artillery guy, so that’s my home. I’ll go to all the ceremonies and spend time and I’ll go to all the change of responsibilities at the battery level and for the artillery units and battery commander changes those things because that’s where I like to be and that’s my life.”

     “You can work for a lot of money as I did when I was in Washington (D.C.), but I didn’t have nearly as much fun as I have now or when I did when I was doing the study when I was working with the Army Reserve — those were fun things,” Seitz said. “Soldiers are my life.”

     Although Seitz achieved a lot during his careers, he admits he has a downfall, an ability he never quite learned from his father.

     “My greatest failing is I have a hard time remembering everybody’s name and it’s something my dad neglected to teach me and he was a master at it — he remembered everybody’s name,” he said. “But I failed miserably on that, but I still recognize people.”