Fort Riley is named in honor of Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Riley, who enjoyed a long and distinguished military career that stretched from the War of 1812 to the Mexican War. Later he commanded the first military escort along the Santa Fe Trail in 1829.
He also served as the last territorial governor of California. He died in June 1853 and is buried in Buffalo, New York.
Fort Riley has always had an important role in the defense of our nation and the training of our Soldiers, and its early history is closely tied to the movement of people and trade along the Oregon and Santa Fe trails.
The fort was established in 1853 as a military post originally called Camp Center. Its mission was to protect the movement of people and trade over the Oregon-California and Santa Fe trails.
These routes, a result of the perceived “Manifest Destiny” in the middle of the 19th century, extended American domination and interests into the far reaches of a largely unsettled territory. During the 1850s, a number of military posts were established at strategic points to provide protection along these arteries of emigration and commerce.
In the fall of 1852, a surveying party under the command of Capt. Robert Chilton, 1st U.S. Dragoons, selected the junction of the Republican and Smoky Hill rivers as a site for one of these forts. This location, approved by the War Department in January 1853, offered an advantageous location from which to organize, train and equip troops in protecting the overland trails.
Surveyors believed the location near the center of the United States and named the site, Camp Center. During the late spring, three companies of the 6th Infantry occupied the camp and began construction of temporary quarters.
On June 27, 1853, Camp Center became Fort Riley, and the post took shape around a broad plain that overlooked the Kansas River valley.
The fort’s design followed the standard frontier post configuration: buildings constructed of the most readily available material – in this case, native limestone. In the spring, troops were dispatched to escort mail trains and protect travel routes across the plains. At the fort, additional buildings were constructed under the supervision of Capt. Edmund Ogden.
Anticipating greater utilization of the post, Congress authorized appropriations in the spring of 1855 to provide additional quarters and stables for the Dragoons. Ogden again marshaled resources and arrived from Leavenworth in July with 56-mule teams loaded with materials, craftsmen and laborers.
Work had progressed several weeks when cholera broke out among the workers. The epidemic lasted only a few days but claimed 70 lives, including Ogden’s. Work gradually resumed and buildings were readied for the arrival in October of the 2nd Dragoons. As the fort began to take shape, an issue soon to dominate the national scene was debated during the brief territorial legislative session, which met at Pawnee in the present area of Camp Whitside.
The first territorial legislature met there in July 1855. Slavery was a fact of life and an issue within garrison just as it was in the rest of the country. The seeds of sectional discord were emerging that would lead to increased tension and bloodshed between pro-and anti-slavery settlers resulted in the use of the Army to “police” the troubled territory. They also continued to guard and patrol the Santa Fe Trail in 1859 and 1860 due to increased Indian threats.
The outbreak of hostilities between North and South in 1861 disrupted garrison life. Regular units returned east to participate in the Civil War while militia units from Kansas and other states used Riley as a base from which to launch campaigns to show the flag and offer a degree of protection to trading caravans using the Santa Fe Trail. In the early stages of the war, the fort was used to confine confederate prisoners.
The conclusion of the Civil War in 1865 witnessed Fort Riley again assuming an importance in providing protection to railroad lines being built across Kansas. Evidence of this occurred in the summer and fall of 1866 when the 7th Cavalry Regiment was mustered-in at Riley and the Union Pacific Railroad reached the fort. Brevet Maj. Gen. George A. Custer arrived in December to take charge of the new regiment.
The following spring, Custer and the 7th left Fort Riley to participate in a campaign on the high plains of western Kansas and eastern Colorado. The campaign proved inconclusive, but resulted in Custer’s court martial and suspension from the Army for one year, in part for returning to Fort Riley to see his wife without permission.
As the line of settlement extended westward each spring, the fort lost some of its importance. Larger concentrations of troops were stationed at forts Larned and Hays, where they spent the summer months on patrol and wintered in garrison.
Between 1869 and 1871, a school of light artillery was conducted at Fort Riley by the 4th Artillery Battery. Instruction was of a purely practical nature. Regular classes were not conducted and critiques were delivered during or following the exercise. This short-lived school closed in March 1871 as the War Department imposed economy measures, which included cutting a private’s monthly pay from $12 to $9.
During the next decade, various regiments of the infantry and cavalry were garrisoned at Riley. The spring and summer months usually witnessed a skeletal complement at the fort, while the remainder of the troops were sent to forts Hays, Wallace and Dodge in western Kansas.
With the approach of winter, troops returned to Riley. Regiments serving here during this time included the 5th, 6th and 9th Cavalry and the 16th Infantry Regiment.
The lessening of hostilities with the Indian tribes of the Great Plains resulted in many frontier forts closing. Riley escaped this fate when Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan recommended in his 1884 annual report to Congress to make the fort “Cavalry Headquarters of the Army.”
Fort Riley was also used by state militia units for encampments and training exercises. The first such maneuver occurred in the fall of 1902, with subsequent ones held in 1903, 1904, 1906 to 1908 and 1911. These exercises gave added importance to the fort as a training facility and provided Reserve units a valuable opportunity for sharpening their tactical skills.
The 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments — the famed Buffalo Soldiers — were stationed at Fort Riley several times during their history. Shortly after their formation in 1866, the 9th Cavalry passed through en route to permanent stations in the Southwest. They returned during the early 1880s and the early part of the last century, before being permanently assigned as troop cadre for the Cavalry School during the 1920s and 1930s. The 10th Cavalry was stationed there in 1868 and 1913. On the eve of World War II, the 9th and 10th Cavalry became a part of the Second Cavalry Division, which was briefly stationed at Fort Riley.
The following two decades have been described as the golden age of the cavalry. Certainly it was in terms of refining the relationship between horse and rider. Army horsemen and the training they received at the Cavalry School made them among the finest mounted Soldiers in the world and the school’s reputation ranked with the French and Italian cavalry schools. Horse shows, hunts and polo matches — long popular events on Army posts — were a natural outgrowth of cavalry training.
The Cavalry School Hunt was officially organized in 1921 and provided a colorful spectacle on Sunday mornings. These activities gave rise to the perception of a special quality of life at Fort Riley that came to be known as the “Life of Riley.” The technological advances demonstrated on the battlefields of Europe and World War I — most notable the tank and machine gun — raised questions in the inter-war years over the future of Cavalry. By the late 1920s, the War Department directed development of a tank force by the Army. This was followed by activation of the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mech) at Fort Knox in the fall of 1936 to make up the 2nd Regiment of this brigade.
In October 1938, the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mech) marched from Fort Knox to Riley and took part in large-scale combine maneuvers of horse and mechanized units. These exercises helped prove the effectiveness of mechanical doctrine.
World War I
America’s entry into World War I required the training of thousands of American Soldiers across the nation. During the summer and fall of 1917, facilities were greatly expanded and a cantonment named Camp Funston was built five miles east of the permanent post. This training site was one of 16 across the country and could accommodate 30,000 to 50,000 men.
The first division to train at Camp Funston, the 89th, sailed for France in the spring of 1918. The 10th Division also received training at Funston, but the armistice came before the unit was sent overseas. The camp was commanded by Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood. A Military Officers Training Camp was established in the Camp Whitside area to train doctors and other medical personnel.
Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918, beckoned to a world made safe for democracy and one that heralded a new day for the horse cavalry. The War Department directed service schools be created for all arms of service. As a result, in 1919, the Mounted Service School, which had ceased to function during the war, was redesignated as the Cavalry School. The change was sudden and abrupt.
The new school recognized the need for courses broader in scope while at the same time being more general in character.
World War II
Gathering war clouds in Europe and Asia during the late 1930s caused some military planners to prepare for possible U.S. involvement. This led to several important developments at Fort Riley.
The first was the rebuilding of Camp Funston and the stationing of the 2nd Cavalry Division there in December 1940. Barracks were built in the area known as Republican Flats and renamed Camp Forsyth. As well, 32,000 acres were added to the post for training purposes. These efforts were brought into sharp focus with America’s entry into World War II.
Over the next four years, approximately 125,000 Soldiers were trained at these facilities. Notable trainees included heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, and motion picture stars such as Mickey Rooney. The post also received a presidential visit by Franklin Roosevelt on Easter Sunday in 1943.
The 9th Armored Division was organized in July 1942, and after its deployment, Camp Funston was used as a prisoner-of-war camp. The arrival of victory in Europe and Japan during the spring and summer of 1945, were joyous occasions. However, they also spelled new realities and directions for the Army and Fort Riley.
In the aftermath of World War II, the fort experienced a period of transition. The Cavalry School ceased operation in November 1946, and the last tactical horse unit inactivated the following March. Replacing the Cavalry School was the Ground General School, which trained newly commissioned officers in basic military subjects.
An officer’s candidate course was conducted, along with training officers and enlisted men in intelligence techniques and methods. The 10th Infantry Division, one of 10 Army training divisions, was activated at Camp Funston in August 1948. The 16-week basic military program conducted by this division prepared Soldiers for infantry combat and duty with other infantry units.
The invasion of South Korea by North Korean forces in June 1950, once again brought attention to Fort Riley as an important training facility. Over the next few years, recruits from all over the United States came to Fort Riley and received basic training.
The 37th Infantry Division, made up of units from the Ohio National Guard, was also stationed there during the conflict. While they were not sent overseas, their presence was a continuing reinforcement of the fort’s importance as a training post.
The uneasy truce that settled on the Korean peninsula after 1953 was indicative of a cold war that had come to characterize relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. This would have an impact on Fort Riley.
In 1955, the fort’s utilization changed from training and educational center to that of being the home base for a major infantry division. In that year, the 10th Division rotated to Germany as part of “Operation Gyroscope” and was replaced by the 1st Infantry Division. Elements of the Big Red One (BRO) began arriving in July 1955 and over the next five months the remaining units arrived. They initially occupied barracks located in Camp Funston.
The influx of troops and dependents placed new demands on the fort’s infrastructure. Work began on Custer Hill where new quarters, barracks and work areas were constructed. A new hospital, named in honor of Maj. Gen. B.J.D. Irwin, was constructed to provide medical care.
In the decade following, 1st Infantry Division units trained to respond to any threat that might arise in Europe or other parts of the world. Construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year witnessed heightened alert for Soldiers stationed at Fort Riley.
An additional 50,000 acres were also acquired in 1966, which enabled the Army to have an adequate training area for the division’s two brigades.
Increased guerrilla insurgency in South Vietnam during the mid-1960s led to the deployment of the 1st Infantry Division to Southeast Asia. The leading element, the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, left in July 1965, with the Division Headquarters arriving in South Vietnam in September. During this same year, a provisional basic combat training brigade was organized at Fort Riley and in February 1966, the 9th Infantry Division was reactivated and followed the 1st Infantry Division into combat.
Fort Riley’s use as a divisional post was maintained with the arrival of the 24th Infantry Division. The division remained in Germany until September 1968, when it redeployed two brigades to Fort Riley as part of the Return of Forces to Germany (REFORGER) program. One brigade was maintained in Germany.
Following nearly five years of combat in Vietnam, the 1st Infantry Division returned to Fort Riley in April 1970 and assumed the NATO commitment. The division’s 3rd Brigade was stationed in West Germany. During the 1970s and the 1980s, 1st Infantry Division Soldiers were periodically deployed on REFORGER exercises.
Reserve Officer Training Corps summer camps were also held at the fort, which permitted troops to demonstrate and teach their skills to aspiring second lieutenants. The fort also hosted the model U. S. Army Correctional Brigade, housed in Camp Funston, and the 3rd ROTC Region Headquarters until their inactivation in 1992.
The Gulf War
In August 1990, Iraq invaded its neighbor, Kuwait. The resulting international outcry led to the largest U.S. troop build-up and deployment overseas since the Vietnam War. In the fall of that year, Fort Riley was notified to begin mobilization of troops and equipment for deployment to the Persian Gulf. Between November 1990 and January 1991, men and equipment were deployed overseas.
In addition to the 1st Infantry Division, 27 non-divisional units were deployed, and 24 Reserve components were mobilized. This amounted to 15,180 Soldiers being sent overseas via 115 aircraft. Over 2,000 railcars transported 3,000 short tons of equipment, which were then shipped to theater on 18 vessels.
Once in theater, these Soldiers and equipment were readied for combat. This commenced in late February 1991, and over the course of the “hundred hours” combat of Operation Desert Storm, these Soldiers carried out their orders and executed their missions that resulted in the crushing of Saddam Hussein’s touted Republican Guards. Later that spring, Soldiers returned to Fort Riley.
The 1990s and Beyond
Following Operation Desert Storm, the 1st Infantry Division returned to Fort Riley. However, world events significantly altered the Army’s traditional mission of warfighting. The collapse of Eastern European communist states and the end of the Soviet Union signaled the end of the Cold War and the beginning of new global challenges for the United States. Long-held ethnic divisions in the Balkans threatened regional stability. In accordance with Dayton Peace Accords, American, NATO and Russian forces deployed to the region to restore peace to that troubled corner of Europe.
In the spring of 1995, Headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division were transferred from Fort Riley to Leighton Barracks in Germany. A brigade of the Big Red One remained at the post along with a brigade of the 1st Armored Division and the 937th Engineer Group.
On June 5, 1999, Fort Riley once again became a Division Headquarters post with the reactivation of the 24th Infantry Division (Mech). The units assigned to the 24th were backfill for Major Theater War contingencies and provided units for Stabilization Force rotations in Bosnia.
On Aug. 11, 2006, Fort Riley proudly welcomed the Big Red One home. On that day, the 24th Infantry Division’s furled its colors and the 1st Infantry Division uncased theirs in a Transfer of Authority Ceremony held at Cavalry Parade Field. The Big Red One’s return from Germany marked a new chapter in the illustrious history of Fort Riley. Soon, significant changes began to take place. The construction of a new Division headquarters; the erection of barracks and dining facilities on Custer Hill and Camp Whitside; improvement of runways and additional hangars at Marshal Army Airfield; and creation of new housing units in the Camp Forysth area marked the transformation of the post. While construction at Fort Riley continued, the Big Red One also continued to serve afar. The division headquarters deployed to both Iraq (2010-2011) and Afghanistan (2012-2013) and deployed the majority of its brigades and battalions throughout the last decade.
Seven months later, 1st Brigade operated under the direction of the 1st Marine Division of both carrying out combat missions and training Iraqi Security forces. In September 2004, the 1st Brigade returned to Fort Riley where it assumed a two-fold mission of training the Army’s Transition Teams, a process where service members from the Army, Air Force and Navy became Iraqi and Afghan military advisors, and providing a worldwide rapid deployment force of security forces. Recently, Soldiers of the 1st Brigade have restructured their brigade into an armored brigade combat team.
In February 2004, the 2nd Brigade deployed to northern Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While in Iraq, the Dagger Brigade averaged 90 combat patrols throughout its sector. In addition to its combat missions, the brigade trained hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and policemen in an effort to assume its own security responsibilities. During its deployment, the 2nd Brigade spent over $17 million in the completion of 318 civic projects that bettered the quality of life for the Iraqi people. Some of these projects included the building of hospitals, schools, roads, water treatment plants and irrigation systems. Since then, the brigade has trained for and is currently executing missions in Africa as the Army’s first regionally aligned brigade.
In July 2003, the 3rd Brigade returned to Germany after spending an eight-month deployment in the Balkans. Five months later, the brigade deployed to Iraq. While deployed to Iraq, the brigade took part in large-scale operations in the cities of Najaf and Baqubah. In April 2007, the brigade returned to the United States reassigned to Fort Hood, Texas. The unit’s residence in Texas was temporary as the brigade deployed to Afghanistan in the early summer of 2008. Upon redeployment in July, the brigade was again reassigned, this time to Fort Knox, Kentucky. Since its reactivation there in October 2009, the brigade deployed twice to Afghanistan – in 2010 and 2013 to 2014.
The 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, stood up Jan. 16, 2005, and deployed from Fort Riley to the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in February 2007. The brigade, stationed in Baghdad during the surge conducted a full spectrum of operations while in Iraq. The unit deployed to Iraq a second time in the summer of 2009. During this deployment in Salah ad-Din province, the brigade carried out stability and transition missions such as overseeing the March parliamentary elections. In 2012 to 2013, the brigade deployed to Afghanistan in order to transfer the security of Paktika and Ghazni provinces to the Afghan National Security Forces.
The Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade, which uncased its colors Aug. 1, 2006, and 1st Sustainment Brigade (formerly known as DISCOM) also returned from deployment supporting the Global War on Terrorism at the end of 2008. Since then, both units have redeployed to Iraq and served (or are currently serving) tours of duty in Afghanistan.
On July 2, 2015, the last of a contingent of Soldiers from the Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Infantry Division returned to Fort Riley after a nine-month deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. The Big Red One took command of the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command — Iraq. Its mission was to build partner capacity sites and depth in the Iraqi military’s organization, as well as help train, equip, advise and assist Iraqi Security Forces to enable it to combat and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
On June 28, 2015, the 1st Infantry Division transferred authority to the 82nd Airborne Division.
The 1st Infantry Division continues to proudly serve our homeland. Ever brave, responsible and on point, the Big Red One team is absolutely committed to each other, our families and our communities. That sense of teamwork is what makes Fort Riley a great place to come home to and what separates us from other Army divisions or installations. Fort Riley and the 1st Infantry Division — first for the nation.