Last night I was in Junction City, Kansas for a very special occasion. As I flew into the Manhattan “The Little Apple” Kansas airport from Dallas, the approach brought me in looking over a place that will always have a distinct meaning in my life, Ft. Riley Kansas — home of the 1st Infantry Division, the infamous “Big Red One.” It was here that I arrived as a young artillery captain fresh from my advanced artillery course at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. My assignment was to the Division Artillery, then commanded by COL Robles, who went on to retire as a Major General, and was the President/CEO of USAA. My duty was to be in the 4th Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment “Faithful and True.” The year was 1988.
I worked hard, somehow distinguished myself early in my assignment and was selected to command the Division’s MLRS (multiple launch rocket system) Battery, Battery B, 6th Field Artillery later that summer. I commanded that unit of 131 Soldiers for 20 months and upon relinquishing command, I was assigned as an Infantry Battalion FSO (Fire Support Officer). The unit was 2d Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment (Rangers). My call sign changed from Detonate 6 to Ranger 14 — but to my new wife Angela, I was just knucklehead.
I served two battalion commanders. My artillery battalion commander was LTC John R. Gingrich — we referred to him as the G-Man. My infantry battalion commander was LTC Dan Fake — a quiet skilled Mech Infantryman. The year was 1990 and by the end of the year. events had taken place which would change our lives. Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened the balance of power in the Middle East. The decision was made that the United States would deploy forces to first defend, but subsequently destroy the Iraqi Army and remove them from Kuwait.
And so that’s how I came to be in Junction City, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and former Member of the US Congress who 25 years ago was part of a massive force that crushed the Iraqi Army.
Twenty-five years ago I was a 30-year-old Army captain, successful battery commander, now part of a historic division; a historic artillery unit that traces its history back to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and part of a historic infantry regiment that landed on Omaha Beach. I, and others, are part of American history and last night we gathered on Ft. Riley to remind today’s Soldiers of the special lineage they carry forth. The 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment conducted a change of command ceremony and a new Battalion Commander assumed command.
I met the outgoing Battalion Commander two years ago here as we gathered to remember the 70th anniversary of D-Day. During that time I was honored and inducted as a Distinguished Member of the Regiment, an evening I will never forget, as it was also a homecoming for my daughters returning to Kansas for the first time since they were little girls.
Twenty-five years ago Aubrey and Austen were not yet born and Angela and I had only been married fourteen months. But Angela, having been the daughter of a Vietnam-era combat Infantryman, knew what it was like, and on that cold January night she had bid me farewell.
Now, twenty-five years later I stood at the 1/16 Inf Regt headquarters as we dedicate the Desert Storm Memorial plaque honoring another chapter in the long service of the 16th Infantry Regiment to the U.S. Army, to the United States.
But as I write I recall what made us such a powerful force twenty-five years ago? The U.S. military coming out of the “malaise era” of Jimmy Carter was a demoralized lot. We didn’t have modernized equipment and it was a military still suffering under the dark specter of Vietnam. However, it was President Reagan who came with a vision and made a difference in our military. We had a commander in chief who stood for us and understood what it meant to fight and win. We had already seen our light infantry and special operations forces conduct a lightning strike operation against Manuel Noriega in Panama. And I remember being in Desert Storm and looking across the desert floor and seeing the impressive array of combat power that was the result of Reagan’s vision.
We’d gone from M113 APCs to Bradley Infantry Fighting vehicles. We’d moved away from the M60 tank to the venerable M1 Abrams. Our artillery was superior with the advanced M109 self-propelled artillery but mainly the impressive MLRS. We debuted the awe-inspiring Apache attack helicopter. And to top it all off, we had the very lethal A-10 Warthog providing impeccable close air support.
Our Task Force 2-16 Infantry was a balanced two Mech infantry and two Armor companies; we were the lead Task Force. We were well-trained, having done several field training rotations in Ft. Riley and also to the National Training Center (NTC).
Yep, it was the “Mother of all Battles” and the Iraqi Army got a spanking. I remember seeing footage of briefings that showed then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell say the objective was “to cut it off and kill it.” Ask yourself today, when was the last time you heard a senior military officer talk about killing the enemy? When was the last time we focused overwhelming combat power against the enemy to crush him on the battlefield? My true concern twenty-five years later is that I will look into the faces of brave Soldiers on Ft. Riley in the 16th Infantry Regiment in the Big Red One who do not have visionary leadership.
Twenty-five years later we need a Reagan commitment to our military to follow the past abysmal seven years that threaten our military capability and capacity. It would be nice if we had someone running for president who’d been in the desert twenty-five years ago. What I do know is that years from now, there will be young men and women who will return to Ft. Riley to dedicate new memorials. That’s the legacy of service, sacrifice and commitment we who’ve worn the honored uniform of a Soldier remember and cherish.
We were victorious in Operation Desert Storm. But I want this nation to have leadership that restores the legacy of victory. That’s what I remember from twenty-five years ago. The call sign of the Division Commander of the First Infantry Division was “Danger 6.” While I was here, my two commanders were Generals Gordon R. Sullivan and Thomas Rhame. General Sullivan had a saying, “if you want to pick a fight, you came to the right place.” And the Big Red One division motto is memorable, “No mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great — Duty First”.
To all who served in that desert twenty-five years ago, Ranger 14 says, “Duty First!”