Kansas communities rally support for post
Brig. Gen. Donald MacWillie, 1st Inf. Div. deputy commanding general for support, in front of stage, takes a question from the audience during a community listening session April 18 at the 1st Inf. Div. headquarters. More than 300 state leaders and local community members filled the room as MacWillie spoke at an open forum to ensure people in the surrounding communities understand the process the Army will use to reach force structure decisions. Installations across the Army are hosting the session, enabling community members a way to contribute their input into the Army’s stationing process. Photo by: Amanda Kim Stairrett, 1ST INF. DIV.
Story by: Mollie Miller
1ST INF. DIV. PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Community and Fort Riley leaders have long celebrated the partnership that exists between the home of the 1st Infantry Division and the Central Flint Hills Region.
The strength of that relationship may have never been more obvious, though, than it was April 18 during a community forum at the "Big Red One's" headquarters.
For more than 90 minutes, hundreds of political leaders, small business owners, educators and Flint Hills community members stood and voiced their support for "their" Soldiers, "their" division and "their" installation.
"Fort Riley is the energy and economic driver of this region," said Loren Pepperd, former mayor of Manhattan, Kan. "As Fort Riley goes, so goes our region."
The community members, who numbered more than 300, gathered at Fort Riley for a community listening session, where Brig. Gen. Donald MacWillie, 1st Inf. Div. deputy commanding general for support, offered information about the Army's ongoing effort to reduce end strength by 80,000 Soldiers and redistribute resources to ensure optimum readiness.
"With the fiscal realities of our nation, the Department of Defense has to make some very tough decisions with regard to force structure," MacWillie said.
Designed to ensure all communities facing potential troop reductions understand how the Army will make future stationing decisions, the forum was one of more than 20 that have been or will be conducted across the nation before final decisions are made.
"You have always supported Fort Riley," MacWillie told the crowd. "That will continue to be critically important as these decisions are made."
In attendance at the open forum was Lt. Col. Patricia Tilson, Army's Office of Strategy, Plans and Policy. Tilson was sent by the Department of the Army to record the communities' comments and concerns in order to present Army leaders with a clear picture of the local impact of potential troop reductions.
"Your voice counts in these decisions," MacWillie said. "(Tilson) will take your feedback, unfiltered, to our Army leaders in Washington."
Packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the division headquarters' main conference room, community members had the opportunity to discuss the importance of Fort Riley and the 1st Inf. Div., highlighting partnership efforts of the past and promises of future support.
"We are in an area that loves and supports our military," said John Armbrust, executive director, Governor's Military Council. "That is why we do what we do."
Although MacWillie could not offer a specific time the force structure decisions might be made, he assured the audience the division will remain as "transparent as possible" in the days and months ahead.
"Tough decisions will have to be made. We will walk this path together," MacWillie said.