FORT RIILEY, Kan. - Flankers, locks, hooks and scrum halves quickly stood up, sprinted for three to five seconds and hit the ground just as fast. Normally an anathema to these rugby players, being on the ground in this situation is was the safest place to be.
Fifteen members and one coach from Kansas State University’s rugby club paid a visit to 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Sept. 20, at the Douthit Multipurpose Range Complex for a crash course in infantry tactics, including buddy-team movement drills like three-to-five second rushes. They also saw M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tanks and their crews conduct platoon live-fire gunnery.
“We had no idea what to expect coming out here. I was pleasantly surprised,” Danny Blea, one of the club’s coaches, said. “I knew we were going to see some heavy-duty armor, but I didn’t know we were going to get a firsthand experience of what the military really does, and that’s the best part about today.”
The visit was in part a way for the Vanguard Battalion to repay the club for their hospitality earlier this summer, Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee Magee, commander of 1st Bn., 18th Inf. Regt., said. Dozens of soldiers from the unit participated in a rugby clinic at Memorial Stadium on the school’s campus, where they learned basic moves such as passing and some of the rules of the game.
The university has played an instrumental role in aiding soldiers from 2nd ABCT who are deploying to Africa as part of its regional alignment mission by providing regional experts and natives at the brigade’s periodic weeklong training exercise known as ”Dagger University.”
“We brought the K-State guys out here, and we’re just showing them a little bit about what we do,” Spc. Justin Higgins, an infantryman with Company A, 1st Bn., 18th Inf. Regt., and Lamar County, Ga., native, said.
Upon their arrival at the range, the rugby players were greeted by a platoon from Company A, 1st Bn., 18th Inf. Regt., who taught them the basics of individual, buddy, team and squad-level movement, both with and without body armor and a helmet. Once they showed competence in that, it was time for more advanced scenarios. Vanguard Battalion soldiers would laid in wait for squads of rugby players armed with blank ammunition and test their abilities.
Most of the members were surprised by what they learned and also humbled by how difficult everything was, despite how easy it might look from the outside.
“The guns are a lot heavier than I thought., I had the [M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon] when I was going out there, with the big old drum, and it’s heavier than it looks,” Darryl Bell, a senior hook majoring in biological systems engineering, said. “Some of us have handled guns before, but we haven’t gone through these movements that these guys get to do.”
Despite some difficulties, it became apparent that rugby and squad infantry tactics have much in common.
“Communication, moving around in a wedge, how to be a leader [are important], which can play in to rugby as well,” Higgins said. “You’re going to have guys on the field moving around in different scenarios so leadership is important.”
“I really appreciate what happened today because it was really a good learning experience for our guys off of the rugby field,” he said. “A lot of the things they do on the rugby field are just what these guys do — communication is such a big thing, and it’s just mimics’ rugby so closely.”
After the field training, the team went to the tower at the range to observe tank platoons from Company C, 1st Bn., 18th Inf. Regt. conduct gunnery. While watching, they ate Meals, Ready-to-Eat, as soldiers from Company A assisted them and made recommendations on the best ones to eat.
After a full day, the team left, having gained a new appreciation for their partners in 1st Bn., 18th Inf. Regt., and other soldiers on Fort Riley.
“When we had the Army guys come out with us, they were telling us they’d have us out here and I got so excited and said, ‘I’m coming,’ right off the bat,” Bell said. “I appreciate being able to come out here and I appreciate everything that these guys do for us.”