Kansas State has been named the sixth recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award, presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).The partnership of the Kansas State football team with the Iron Rangers has created a bond between the university and the United States Army post at Fort Riley. Coordinated by the staff at the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA was created in June 2012 “to honor an individual and/or a group with a military background and/or involvement that has an impact within the realm of college football.”
Brant Ringler, the Executive Director of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, and David Jones, the FWAA’s president, announced here Thursday selection of the Kansas State football team as the 2017 recipient during an 11 a.m. (CT) teleconference. Ringler will also be present Saturday at the Wildcat’s game versus West Virginia in Manhattan to officially present the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA.
A seven-person committee made up of FWAA members and Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl officials selected Kansas State from a list of 38 nominations for the 2017 award. U. S. Marine veteran Steven Rhodes, a defensive end at Middle Tennessee State University, was honored last November as the fifth recipient of Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA.
Nate Boyer of the University of Texas was named the initial recipient of the award in 2012 followed by Brandon McCoy of the University of North Texas in 2013, Daniel Rodriguez from Clemson University in 2014 and Bret Robertson of Westminster College (Fulton, Mo.) in 2015. All four individuals were U. S. Army veterans before playing college football.
“We are pleased to join with the Football Writers Association of America to honor the Kansas State football program as the sixth recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award,” said Ringler. “We had a list of 38 outstanding nominations for this year’s award and it is difficult to honor only one each year when we have individuals and programs that are very deserving of the honor.”
Jones echoed Ringler’s sentiments along with adding that the FWAA is “pleased to team with Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl to recognize Kansas State’s involvement with the Iron Rangers at Fort Riley. The FWAA also salutes the other 2017 nominations for their contributions on-and-off the field of play.”
A nominee for the Armed Forces Merit Award since 2013, the Kansas State football team has been a finalist for the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl and FWAA recognition the past two years. The Kansas State relationship with Fort Riley started in 2006 when Lt. Col. Patrick Frank approached former Wildcat coach Ron Prince about partnering his soldiers with the Kansas State student-athletes. The partnership has continued with legendary Wildcat coach Bill Snyder.
“We are so very honored to receive the 2017 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA in recognition of our passionate, long and on-going relationship with For. Riley and the Big Red 1,” said Snyder. “We have such great respect for our armed services and the amazing sacrifices they make for all of us and are so fortunate to live in this country. The interaction Sean, I and our players have with the men of Fort Riley has left a lasting impact on our lives.”
Kansas State Athletics Director Gene Taylor added that “the partnerships that each of our athletic teams have with Fort Riley, including our football team, are a special and unique component of the experience that we provide all of our student-athletes at our school. Both groups have an immense respect for what each does, and it is a tremendous honor for our student-athletes to build relationships and greater understanding of the work and lifestyles of our service men and women, all whom have sacrificed so much for our country.”
In addition to hosting joint workouts, Snyder and his son, associate head coach Sean Snyder, have attended deployment and return ceremonies for the troops at Fort Riley, and they post newsletters from the regiment in the locker room. For each home game, Wildcat team captains carry the Iron Rangers and Big Red Ones Flags out onto the field as two members of the Iron Rangers bring the flags each week and watch the game from the sideline.
“Our guys - and I didn’t realize this at first - they carried names and faces of those guys around. When the Fort Riley troops were over in Afghanistan, the players were looking at the newsletters, and they were concerned about the soldiers’ well-being,” Sean Snyder said.
While many college football teams have a military appreciation day with an appearance by the color guard and a section of soldiers in the stands, K-State takes the tribute game to a higher level. At Kansas State’s annual “Fort Riley Day” game, more than 1,000 soldiers and family members have been treated to a pregame tailgate party with free food and beer and donated tickets.
The school’s football team also has attended physical training and spent a day in the life of a soldier. The Wildcats have recorded numerous videos and written cards to be shared with the unit through their deployments. The Fort Riley troops in return spend personal time with K-State coaching and support staffs.
The partnership between Fort Riley and the football team also has impacted other sports on the Manhattan campus. Each of the university’s sports have paired with a designated unit on campus to begin their own partnerships and support systems.
In an extensive 2013 article in the Kansas City Star Magazine, titled "K-State athletes and Fort Riley soldiers join forces," Cindy Hoedel wrote that “the football partnership helped start a bigger relationship between the university and Fort Riley in 2008. What separates the K-State/Fort Riley partnership from military outreach programs at other universities is support from the top leaders of each institution.”
Hoedel’s article mentioned a visit to troops in Iraq in 2010 by Kansas State President Kirk Schulz and three faculty members. The group flew by Black Hawk helicopters and traveled by mine-resistant vehicles as they lived in troop housing for five days to see what the soldiers were experiencing.
“I don’t know how many university presidents have flown to Iraq,” said former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, a Kansas State alum, current university president and a retired four-star general in the Air Force. “That speaks volumes.”
The Star Magazine article noted that other universities and colleges near military bases, Louisville, Texas-San Antonio, Syracuse and San Diego State, have approached Kansas State to learn how its military partnership works. Interest is also on the military side.