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Fort Riley officials host media day to foster relationships

By Collen McGee | GARRISON PUBLIC AFFAIRS | September 30, 2016

     A group of eight people from five Kansas media outlets came to Fort Riley Sept. 21 to learn about training capability here. The representatives were from outlets with audiences from Salina to Topeka and had various levels of previous experience with the Army, either professionally or as a member of a Soldier’s family.

     Not everyone was a reporter, some worked in publishing or advertising arenas, but the majority were responsible in some way for covering Fort Riley news.

     The group spent most of their visit at the Seitz Regional Training Complex where they learned how live-fire field training is augmented with virtual simulations and gaming technology.

     “What’s unique about Fort Riley is how we blend these systems together,” said Bill Raymann, chief of training, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. “We’re actually able to have Soldiers that are in virtual reality simulators, Soldiers that are in gaming, Soldiers in a computer simulation and Soldiers that are live in the field … training together as if they were all together deployed someplace around the world.”

     It was that inter-woven capability and how much each Soldier has to think about that surprised some of the media members.

     “To me, it was a bit eye-opening,” said Alix Kunkle, editor of The Daily Union in Junction City. “I think some have the perception that Soldiers just pick up a gun and go to war, and it’s not that simple at all.”

     Kunkle was familiar with Fort Riley as he has staff who write for the on-post newspaper and often covers events here himself. He said it was the many details that made the most impact.

     “To me, I think it’s the amount of complexity that goes into training for one mission,” Kunkle said. “There are many more moving parts that go into preparing for a mission. You need to have communication within your vehicle, within your convoy and within your entire unit. You also need to keep your eyes open at all times.”

     For DeAngela McDougald, a reporter at Eagle Radio in Junction City, what she saw wasn’t as much of a surprise as she is the daughter of a Fort Riley retiree. She said there were things her audience would appreciate about the intricacies of training at Fort Riley.

     “My audience would have been most impressed with the multiple facets of training and the training space available to the Soldiers,” she said. “I work for a conservative radio news station, and numbers and statistics from the Army and more specifically Fort Riley are of great interest.”

     Those numbers include more than 14,000 Soldiers who train at the complex as well as the 26,000 National Guard and Reserve Soldiers from Kansas and surrounding states who train here annually. Those numbers directly translate to community impact.

     “Many people see Fort Riley as an entity separate from their community,” McDougald said. “I think community leaders like to say that they love and include the military, but many have negative opinions about the military’s contribution to their towns. People underestimate what Soldiers and their families bring to their communities. More specifically, Junction City wouldn’t even be the size of Chapman (Kansas) if Fort Riley wasn’t here. The town is full of generation after generation of retirees and veterans, yet many locals don’t appreciate all that Fort Riley does for the area.”

     That population infusion and economic impact on the eight counties surrounding the installation is just part of what drove the U.S. Army Garrison Public Affairs staff to host the media open house. The rest is all about relationships and good, professional relationships need regular maintenance, according to staff of the Public Affairs staff.

     “These types of networking events are an important part of building and strengthening professional relationships between Fort Riley and the surrounding areas,” said Bob Everdeen, director of Fort Riley public affairs. “I’ve worked in a lot of different media markets around the country in my 25 years with the Navy, Air Force and Army, and I’ve seen a lot of good working relationships between the military and local media. But the relationship, respect and trust found between the two here in the Flint Hills is unmatched; I’m very impressed with and thankful for the relationship we have.”

     For Brig. Gen. Patrick Frank, deputy commanding general for the 1st Infantry Division, that relationship is one he intends to maintain. During a working lunch with the group, he invited the media back and challenged them to come view a live-fire training exercise early next year.

     Media representatives are interested in that and other opportunities to view the unique capabilities at Fort Riley.

     “I think it would be interesting to see a live-fire exercise with the tanks, similar to what we experienced with the simulators,” McDougald said. “I’m not sure that it would be possible, but just being able to be inside the tank and view the technology and witness the capabilities first hand would be unique.”

     For Kunkle, the ability to deploy a division to either coast within 72 hours was next on his list. For him, the railhead at Camp Funston was what he wanted to see in action.

     “I imagine it’s so much more than just loading a tank onto a railroad car and then shipping off, and I think it would be really interesting to learn how all of the different entities — the Army and its different units, as well as Union Pacific and the other associated companies — coordinate to assist a deploying unit in loading, or unloading, all of their equipment,” Kunkle said.

 

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