by Lisa Sisley on February 11, 2015

Kristin, Susan and I went to the Fort Riley listening tour event on February 9, the purpose of which was to demonstrate to the Department of Defense powers-that-be that we here in the Flint Hills are good to our soldiers, and that it would be a very bad move to axe Fort Riley as an active installation. The word went out to SHOW UP. And boy, did we ever…

Wow. Just…wow. Some people worried beforehand about attendance numbers. I believe 800 was the official goal, or expectation. Well, the final tally was about 4,200. I’ve been told that the former attendance record for these events was 1,500 at Fort Hood. (Once again, we eat Texas’s lunch.)

We got there early enough to snag some seats, but hundreds stood around the walls, outside in the lobby area and in the parking lot. Security personnel were numerous. Junction City High School JROTC members seemed even more numerous, acting as über-respectful, sharp-dressed ushers. We watched a slideshow, guarded our seats, chatted with folks and marveled as the crowd grew and grew.

Then we got down to business.

Brig. Gen. Eric Wesley, deputy commanding general (support) and acting senior commander, 1st Infantry Division, has a better stage presence than almost anybody I’ve ever met. The man is a rock star who set the tone with a great opening monologue that let the crowd blow off some steam at well-timed applause points.

Then the leaders of the DOD delegation from Washington, Brig. Gen. Cloutier and his aide, spoke, explaining what they hoped to learn. Jillions of local elected officials — and some not so local, like the mayor of Wichita — were recognized.

And our federal legislators and the governor spoke, which went about like you’d expect.

Then the extremely tight, well orchestrated regional presentation began. I sat there thinking how difficult it must be to balance all the different constituencies, all the competing interests, all the contentious local history…as well as everything that’s at stake if Fort Riley pulls up stakes…and I was so, so proud to be in the room. Because this region has learned to play well together.

The speakers covered the gamut — K-12 education, healthcare, infrastructure, recreation, higher education, quality of life, transportation, community-post partnerships, and others. I was struck by the depth and breadth of the ways we take care of soldiers and families here. It’s pretty amazing. We heard from cities, counties, chambers of commerce, state agencies, colleges, veterans, military spouses, high school students, transportation experts, doctors, a mental health professional, a healthcare administrator, a small business advocate…I’m forgetting some, but you get the gist. They came from Junction City, Manhattan, Council Grove, Riley, Chapman, Emporia, Milford…

And those were just the planned presentations. Forty other folks got to speak, too, for 90 seconds apiece.

I’m afraid this sounds like the event was a big, self-congratulatory, “boy, we’re awesome” kind of deal. No. The focus remained solidly on how we serve our soldiers and their families. The contention was that no other place in the United States is as good at or as passionate about this as we are, and we seemed to have the facts and attendance to back it up.

Of course I’m biased, but we look hard to beat.