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
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.
During the banquet, Brooks
was inducted as a distinguished member of the regiment, and West was made an honorary
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 described his relationship
to the 16th as a “love affair” that began in 1984, when he was a young company commander
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
“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
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
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
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.”