FORT RILEY, Kan. — More than 20 1st Infantry Division artillery veterans and several spouses reunited March 26 to 28 to reminisce about their time in the Big Red One and to get a look at what modern-day soldiers do on a daily basis.
All of the veterans served in the division during the Vietnam era, and many served with each other during that time, making the reunion a chance to see close friends of more than 40 years.
“There were a couple reasons I came back — obviously the camaraderie of being around my fellow veterans and guys that I actually served with in Vietnam,” Pat Roberts, a veteran of the 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, said. “I’ve always felt a huge kinship to the Big Red One. I do believe it’s one of the best outfits there is.”
Soldiers and leaders with 1st Bn., 7th FA Regt., now part of 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., hosted the veterans and spouses. On the first day, the veterans were able to see static displays of modern vehicles and weapons systems, including the M1096A2 Paladin self-propelled howitzer. Their interaction with their modern-day counterparts continued with lunch with some “First Lightning” Battalion soldiers.
“They are absolutely amazing, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart,” retired Col. Frank Alexander said of current 1st Inf. Div. soldiers. “They are very impressive.”
The group was later shown some of the digital training capabilities the division possesses at the Mission Training Center, including the Dismounted Soldier Training System and Virtual Battlespace modules.
On the second day, spouses attended a social event at the home of the commander of 1st Bn., 7th FA Regt., Lt. Col. John Mountford, hosted by Mountford’s wife, Amanda, as the veterans were taken on a tour of main post and the division museum.
Later, Maj. Joey Errington, operations officer of 1st Bn., 7th FA Regt., along with a group of current soldiers familiar with the mission, gave the veterans a briefing on the battalion’s role in the regionally-aligned forces task with U.S. Africa Command.
“(The veterans) asked me questions about everything pertaining to what I trained the soldiers on, to how the trip was over there, to how the Africans liked us being there (and) if they received good training - things of that nature,” Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Spataro, a platoon sergeant with Battery A, 1st Bn., 7th FA Regt. who went to Sierra Leone last year, said. “They mentioned that it was similar to their era in that we are training Soldiers up to win their fights, but different because we didn’t actually go out and execute this mission.”
Before returning home, the veterans had a final chance to reconnect with old battle buddies and immerse themselves once more in the world of artillery and the Big Red One.
“I served in seven or eight divisions, but this is the division,” retired Sgt. Maj. Ira Whitaker said. “This is it.”
“The history of the division that has been preserved gives you a certain pride that you contributed to its history,” he said. “That’s something that stays inside of you forever.”