A growing theme around the sporting world is teams honoring falling alumni with a patch on their jersey. From high school sports to college athletics and onto the professional ranks, teams are placing ribbons, numerals and initials on their game jersey’s to draw attention, recognize and honor those who have meant a great deal to their program and want to celebrate their lives. For the Kansas State Wildcats Men’s Basketball team, the patch on their game jersey chest is to honor the current and heroic 1-7 FA (Field Infantry) Division of the Fort Riley Military Base, just minutes from the Manhattan campus. The patch appears on all three colors of KSU’s jersey top and is proudly displayed every game.
In September of 2008, a partnership was formed with the 1-7 FA and the Wildcats basketball team. The unit was scheduled for an October 2008 deployment to Iraq, and was in the final stages of their training at Fort Riley. Head Basketball Coach Frank Martin brought his entire roster of players, coaches and staff to Fort Riley on September 11th, 2008 to participate in a full training session, exactly like the troops were going through.
The Kansas State members were placed in full military gear, drove around in the units humvee vehicles and ate in the bases mess hall, allowing them to feel like part of the troop. “The only thing they could not simulate for us was the temperature,” Director of Basketball Operations Andy Assaley said. “Everything else was exactly the same.”
After running through a series of lectures and drills, the members of the basketball program was split up and placed in a humvee for battle training. They were driven around a simulation course that mirrored the streets of Baghdad, Iraq, and were in charge of returning fire at the enemies that shot at them. After the simulation was completed, each member was handed a breakdown of their shooting stats and how they performed. “I was awful,” said Assaley. “I killed a few civilians, but no bad guys.”
Following this terrific experience, the Men’s Basketball Team returned to campus to continue their own training, getting ready for the season and a grueling Big 12 Conference Schedule. Several days later, the 1-7 FA sent about a dozen of their troops to Manhattan to reverse the roles, and train with the team. The troops attended classes, weightlifting sessions and were put through an on court practice to get a feel for what a college athlete goes through on a day to day basis.
As the 1-7 FA troop was being deployed to Iraq, the KSU team once again returned to Fort Riley to see them off, wish them luck, and thank them for representing the country. The infantry was to spend 12 months in Iraq. While there, the basketball team made sure to send them care packages and copies of all of their games for the interested troops to watch. In return, the troops would send recorded messages back to the team that was played before each game on the video board in Bramlage Coliseum. The Wildcats Athletic Department has also designated one game a season as “Fort Riley Night” where troops and their families are invited to Bramlage at discounted prices to watch a basketball game.
Coach Martin and the rest of the Kansas State family hope that the relationship between the University and Fort Riley can continue into the future. He told me he held this was a great thing for both parties to experience and beneficial to everyone.
Thanks to the Basketball Office for providing me with the following pictures.
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