Victory Fest enjoys largest turnout in decade

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A Trooper with the Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard fires at a target Aug. 19 during Victory Fest as the team trains for upcoming competitions. – Photo by Kalene Lozick

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Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley commanding general, joins the Charlie Daniels Band on the main stage during Victory Fest Aug. 19 at Marshall Army Airfield. The band joined Lit, The All- American Rejects and the Eli Young Band at the all-day music festival. – Photo by Collen McGee

Eli Young Band, others headline day filled with music, festivities, fireworks

“Where’s the power? The power is 100 years of service to our nation … and who we are — we are the 1st Infantry Division.” Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley Commanding General

“They are going to feel the power,” said Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley commanding general, during the Victory Fest 2017 opening ceremony at Marshall Army Airfield Aug. 19.

“What’s the power?” Martin said. “The power is 100 years of service to our nation. This division: the first to go into World War I, the first to go into Africa, Sicily and Europe in World War II; the first to go into Vietnam; the first to go across to breach in Desert Storm; the first to serve in Iraq and who we are — we are the 1st Infantry Division.”

The crowd, despite sitting in upper 90-degree weather under the mid afternoon sun, cheered and clapped for Martin.

Victory Fest, held during Victory Week, is a daylong event for Soldiers, their families and members of the surrounding community to celebrate the “Big Red One” with various activities such as military tactical vehicle exhi¬bition, family activities, car shows, concerts and fireworks. Local bands such as Brady Weston Band, Tanner Dirks Band, 1st Inf. Div. Band, Muz¬izi, Lucas Maddy Band, Boot¬leg Mercy and Tim Strathman Band performed at the secondary stage.

The headliners on the main stage began at 3:30 p.m. with the USO Show Troupe, fol¬lowed by Lit, Charlie Daniels Band, The All-American Rejects at sunset, Eli Young Band to close the concert and a 20-minute fireworks finale.

Typically held conjunction with the 1st Inf. Div. birthday June 8, Victory Week was held in August this year to enable maximum participation from units. Heather Wilburn, marketing manager at Fort Riley’s Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, said more than 4,500 tickets were distributed; the largest turn out for Victory Fest in a decade.

“It was really perfect timing for us to thank as many Soldiers as possible,” Wilburn said. “We were really excited to be able to offer it at a time when almost all of our Soldiers were home, and in-house — that hasn’t happened in Fort Riley for a really long time. So it kind of served as a welcome home to all the Soldiers coming back from Korea and Central Asia, and also a farewell for the Soldiers, who are getting ready to head out on their next deployment.”

The MWR’s mission is to provide Soldiers and families with resources to thrive. Ac¬cording to Wilburn, an event like Victory Fest falls into the resilience category of the organization’s goal, which is important because of what Soldiers and families go through daily.

“We give the Soldiers and families a chance to come out, have a good time and not have to think about the Army mission,” she said. “They can think about being with their families, being with their friends, just hanging out on a day where there is no stress and no pressure, and being able to hit that release valve.”

That was what happened, as the spectators who stayed until the end of Charlie Daniels Band’s performance can attest to. Toward the end of the 80-year-old country music singer’s performance, Martin got on stage and thanked Daniels and his band members for their performance, but teased the audience by telling Daniels he was going to withhold the band’s certificate of appreciation until an encore performance of the singer’s popular hit, “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” was sung.

But Martin didn’t leave the stage. Immediately following the fiddle intro, the commanding general belted the verses to the song. The crowd cheered with smiles across their faces.

Wilburn said it was that kind of reaction from the attendees that made her job worth it.

“My favorite part was seeing happy Soldiers and families; that’s why I do what I do,” Wilburn said. “A lot of the artists took the time to thank our Soldiers and family members for what they do, they did a lot of shout outs, especially Eli Young Band. It think it made (the Soldiers and family) feel the show really was for them. That was super cool.”

THE VOLUNTEER

Jessica Garate is a training specialist at Child and Youth Services. That evening, she was an event volunteer at Victory Fest by the entrance of Mar¬shall Army Airfield. Growing up a military child, she lived in the Fort Riley area multiple times since she was 12 years old, but this is her first time at an event like Victory Fest.

“I love it and I actually like all the bands,” Garate said. “I actually got to meet and greet (Charlie Daniels and Eli Young Band) and they were down to earth and they kept thanking all of us for our service to the military community.”

But the part of the concert Garate enjoyed the most was not meeting the musicians, it was the sense of accomplishment she felt when she saw all the people she worked with volunteer together.

“I love feeling the sense of community here … it just shows how big of a community we are,” she said. “I got to talk to staff I don’t normally talk to on a daily basis, so I love it.”

Garate recognized many event attendees because they were parents of the children she works with. She says an occasion like this is beneficial for couples who have children.

“I think it helps the parents because the parents got to have like a date night or maybe a night out,” Garate said. “It’s nice they don’t have to go some¬where else, it’s here in-house.”

THE YOUNG FAMILY

Warrant Officer Michael Horrace, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Infantry Division Artillery, 1st Infantry Division, had just re¬turned from a deployment to Iraq and it was his wife, Liana Horrace’s, first time going through a deployment. Although the two have had the opportunity to do some traveling after they were reunited, they appreciated having an event of this scale so close to them.

“It’s nice to have something convenient, that’s right here,” he said. “We did a lot of traveling, so it would be nice not to go somewhere.”

“We could have a date night of sorts with people you recognize,” Liana said. “It was nice to be around community and the fact that we don’t have to go far to have that was great … it was low pressure.”

The two enjoyed the fireworks show that they thought rivaled the Fourth of July display in Wamego, Kansas, and stood in line for an hour so Michael could have a turkey leg since he had not had one in a long time. But it was the Charlie Daniels Band performance that hit home for his wife.

“Seeing Charlie Daniels perform ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’ was really awesome for me because I grew up in Georgia, and we’d go down to Stone Mountain (Theme Park) every year, multiple times a year, and they’d have a laser show there,” she said. “That’s probably the biggest song that’s played in the laser show. Everyone gets up, screams to the music; it’s just Georgia to me.”

That performance spoke to Liana because it was a part of her upbringing.

“That was why I loved it so much because it was a part of growing up where I did,” she said. “It was something we always did as a family.”

PART OF ARMY FAMILY

At the military armored fighting vehicle exhibition, retired Lt. Col. Tony Nichols climbed out the top with a smile across his face. It was Nichols first time checking out the tanks installed with newer technology since he left the Army in 2013. He was a tanker and had always worked on tanks until he was a senior officer.

“Because of the war on Iraq, they made some changes in the tank and I didn’t get to see those changes,” Nichols said. “It was the first time I got to see what they had done, up and close and personal. To make it more lethal, more survivable; and it’s just amazing technology. So I was excited, very excited.”

He and his family live near the Fort Riley area. His wife Janet Nichols is still actively involved with Fort Riley as the military community liaison at the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce.

“I’m happy to be retired next to Fort Riley, they really make you feel like you’re part of the unit even though you are retired,” he said. “I miss being in the Army, but I come here right now during Victory Week, and they pull you in.”

Janet, on the other hand, was one of the community sponsors for Victory Fest. She had the opportunity to participate in the event as part of her job and as a retired spouse.

“What’s neat is when we were part of the Army, it’s kind of hard to tell how the history affects you,” she said. “But once you have the perspective, and you come to enough things, and you learn, you see how you’re just a part of something that’s so much bigger and that is a 100 years old.”

NO SACRIFICE TOO GREAT

“Come here,” said Charlie Daniels, lead singer of Charlie Daniels Band, as he enveloped his arms into a bear hug around Dody Berg, mother of Sgt. 1st Class Forrest Robert¬son, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, at Fort Stewart, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2013.

The whole room fell silent while the singer songwriter comforted the grieving mother during the band’s meet and greet session. The meeting was arranged by Fort Riley Survivor Outreach Services.

“We try to do a lot of activities over at Fort Riley since we lost our son,” she said. “My son wanted to meet him, and didn’t get to, so this is on our bucket list.”

According to Wilburn, there is always room for meet-and-greet sessions for Gold Star families. She notes the Bergs are very active in the Fort Riley community, such a participating in Run for the Fallen.

“Dody and Charles are awesome, they’re active in a ton of stuff on post,” she said. “They’re a really neat family.”

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