Fort Riley, Kansas

 

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16th Inf. Regt. reunites, celebrates history

By Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Wiley | 1ST INF. DIV. PUBLIC AFFAIRS | June 23, 2014

JUNCTION CITY – Veterans of one of the oldest and most decorated infantry regiments affiliated with the 1st Infantry Division returned to Fort Riley June 4 to 8 to reunite and celebrate 153 years of service to the nation.

More than 200 men who served in one of the battalions of the 16th Infantry Regiment – some as long ago as during World War II – gathered to honor their past and look forward to the regiment’s future.

For the past several years, the 16th Infantry Regiment Association has hosted its annual reunion in conjunction with the one conducted by the Society of the 1st Inf. Div., said Steve Clay, the association’s first vice president and regimental historian. However, this year, rather than gathering with the rest of the division in Orange, California, they decided to meet in Kansas, so they could be with the Soldiers serving in the active battalions, he explained.

The five-day event, during which past and present Soldiers affiliated with the 16th Inf. Regt. met and shared experiences, culminated in a reunion banquet June 7 at the Courtyard by the Marriott Hotel and Convention Center, Junction City, which was attended by Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commanding general, U.S. Army Pacific, and former U.S. Rep. and retired Lt. Col. Allen D. West.

Brooks and West both served in the 16th Inf. Regt. – Brooks as a company commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company and Co. B. 4th Bn., 16th Inf. Regt. (Forward) in Germany in 1984 and West as a fire support officer in 2nd Bn., 16th Inf. Regt. in operations Desert Shield and Storm.

BROOKS INDUCTED

During the banquet, Brooks was inducted as a distinguished member of the regiment, and West was made an honorary member.

West said he was proud to accept the honor and to be back in Kansas.

“Kansas is the place I met and married my wife. Kansas is the place that gave me my two daughters – my oldest Aubrey was born on Fort Riley, and my youngest Austen was born in Topeka,” he said. Beyond family, however, West said, “Kansas gave me the opportunity to serve in a great, historic division and a great, historic regiment in combat.”

Brooks also said he was happy to be back in Kansas. Brooks served as the commanding general of the 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley, from 2009 to 2011, deploying the division to Basra, Iraq, in 2010 and 2011. He said this was his first opportunity to be back in the Central Flint Hills Region since departing in 2011, and he was pleased to see the progress the division has made during the past three years.

“This is a very good reason to come back – to be among family with the 16th Inf. Regt. Association dinner,” Brooks said.

Brooks described his relationship to the 16th as a “love affair” that began in 1984, when he was a young company commander in Germany.

He said during that time, he met retired Lt. Gen. Al Smith, a veteran of World War II and Vietnam, who landed at Omaha Beach June 6, 1944, during the famed D-Day invasion of Normandy.

“He loved the 16th Inf.,” Brooks said of Smith. “He would come back and forth to Germany and meet with all of the officers, seniors (noncommissioned officers) and Soldiers whenever he could.”

Brooks said during one of his many visits, Smith took him and the rest of his battalion to Normandy and told them stories about the historic actions taken by the 16th Inf. Regt. Soldiers that day. Brooks said through Smith, he began to see his service in the 16th as part of a long, proud legacy – a legacy he summed up as “professionalism,” “valorous service,” an “expeditionary service” and “always being ready for the unexpected.”

On the topic of professionalism, Brooks said, “The 16th Infantry has long been known for doing hard stuff. In 1870 to 1877, it was doing the hard stuff called reconstruction in the South … It was enforcing legislation. It was dismantling extremist organizations … It was distasteful duty (because) it was so entangled in politics and emotion and bad memories.”

After reconstruction, 16th Inf. Regt. Soldiers were reassigned to the West, where they protected commerce in the nation’s youngest, emerging communities, Brooks said. Three companies were assigned to Fort Riley in 1877, making the regiment’s ties to Kansas 40 years older than those of the “Big Red One” division.

While stationed in Kansas, the 16th Inf. Regt. continued to get the hard assignments and continued to execute its duties with honor and valor, Brooks said. Whether it was in Cuba, the Philippines, WWI, WWII, Vietnam, the Cold War, Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom, the Soldiers of the 16th Inf. Regt. answered the nation’s call.

In more than a century-and-a-half of service, the regiment has been awarded 46 campaign streamers, not including those in Iraq and Afghanistan; has earned five presidential unit citations; has been awarded the French Croix de Guerre four times; and 11 of its members have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

“Getting the hard jobs, being valorous going where we are sent … this is part of our experience and part of our heritage. This is what you’re carrying with you,” Brooks said to the Soldiers assembled.

Brooks noted the 1st Bn., 16th Inf. Regt. and 2nd Bn., 16th Inf. Regt. were already prepped to write the next chapter of the regiment’s history – with 1st Bn., 16th Inf. Regt. leaving for Kuwait later this month and the 2nd Bn., 16th Inf. Regt. assuming the mission of being regionally aligned with Africa, along with the rest of 4th Brigade, 1st Inf. Div.

To the Soldiers assembled, Brooks said, “You’re up to (the challenge). You’re the same people that were there 123 years ago … You’re the same ones. This is the 16th (Inf.) Regt. This is who we are.”


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