Congratulations, you’ve been assigned to Fort Riley!….uggh, it’s in the middle of nowhere…quit your crying! Ft. Riley and the towns surrounding it are what I consider to be hidden gems of the Army. Yes, the operational tempo of the 1st Infantry Division is pretty high, but when you get down-time, there is no lack of things to do nearby. This article focuses specifically on the important things you should know about Ft. Riley before coming here…
1. Living Off Post
Off post living has been my choice at every duty station; Ft. Riley was no exception. As part of the 90% of the military that owns a pet, I feel this is important to state up front…the area is not very pet-friendly. My husband and I initially looked at renting a house so our dog had a backyard, but it was slim pickins. Eventually we settled on a duplex, but across the board it is difficult to find a good home that allows pets or doesn’t charge you big money for pet rent/deposits. I have lots of friends who ended up buying a home in part because of this issue. Check out our article about on-post living if this your thang!
2. Big Booms
Because the Ft. Riley training area is relatively small, it is very common to hear big booms throughout the day and well into the night coming from the range complexes on post. Yes, they will shake your windows, wake your babies, and frighten your pets, but no, the apocalypse has not begun. Just something to be aware of. Civilians call this the “Sound of Freedom.”
3. Tornado Country
It gets incredibly windy here, and yes there are tornadoes. When there is a tornado warning, the area is equipped with sirens that will sound like the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. Make sure you read up on your tornado knowledge. Know the difference between severe thunderstorm warning vs. watch and tornado warning vs. watch (click here to read up). If your building isn’t equipped with a shelter, know ahead of time where the closest ones are to you, or know the best places to be in your home when one hits. I won’t belabor this point. Do your homework.
4. Military Knowledge
Hi, my name is Riley and I’m a Big Red One Soldier….you will quickly grow tired of hearing this at every military event. Nuff said. If you’re a Soldier, you need to learn the Big Red One Song and the BRO Charge before you report to your unit. Spouses and locals, doesn’t hurt to sing along! Oh yea, you’ll hear “BRO” a lot. And no, you are not pledging your allegiance to flat-brimmed hat wearing, Natty Ice drinking frat boys…BRO stands for Big Red One.
5. It’s Not That Flat
Everybody likes to say that Kansas is flat, and I suppose compared to several mountainous states, it is. But I was surprised to find that the Fort Riley area is actually quite hilly. So, be advised…there are hills. You will run them. They suck. And that’s pretty much all I got to say about that (that’s a Forrest Gump reference you uncultured peasant).
The Manhattan Regional Airport flies you direct to Dallas and Chicago only. Definitely plan a long weekend trip to one of these two places as the tickets are reasonably priced and the flights are quick! Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport and the Kansas City International airports are about 2 hours away.
7. Country Stampede
The Country Stampede is an annual country music festival held outdoors at the Tuttle Creek State Park in Manhattan. Usually happens in June and lasts for three days and is host to some of the biggest stars in Country Music! Be sure to buy a ticket and camp out if that’s your kinda thing. Be advised: lots of alcohol and it can get pretty rowdy.
8. KSU and its Football
Not sure how anyone coming to Ft. Riley would be unaware of this, however I always seem to run into a few. Manhattan, KS is home to Kansas State University (Go Wildcats! Beat KU!) and everything is purple. I have legitimately never seen more purple stuff in my life. Purple shirts, purple cars, purple flags…get used to seeing this color. With every major Midwestern university comes football, of course! Your Fort Riley Bucket List will not be complete without attending at least one home game. Wildcats fans are serious about their tailgating, so be sure to get there a few hours early; pop out the portable grill and cooler and enjoy the day with some friends.
Right and Up Tip: On game days, the town is empty, so if you’re not at the game, you can use this as a good opportunity to grab a quiet lunch. Try to avoid any of the streets surrounding the stadium on game days as they will be packed with pedestrians and roadside parking.
Ok, so you can now talk intelligently about KSU football and a few other Fort Riley-isms, but your local knowledge would not be complete without a full briefing on Aggieville, aka The Ville. Aggieville encompasses a 6 square block area right outside of KSU along Anderson Ave. In it you will find plenty of college-age bars and restaurants to include some of our favorites: Taco Lucha, Thai Noodle, Radina’s Coffeehouse and Varsity Donuts. Aggieville is also the focal point for many of the annual festivities like The Nothing Festival and Fake Patty’s Day.
10. Fake Patty’s Day
Once a year, every year, Aggieville throws what may be the largest party in the Midwest…Fake Patty’s Day. Held a week before St. Patrick’s Day, thousands upon thousands of people gather in Aggieville to celebrate this…umm…special day. Think green beer, green outfits, green everything. Lots of vomiting. So, you have two courses of action on this day. 1) Hide your kids, hide your wife. 2) Hide your kids, hide your wife, and the following morning get a choice spot outside a coffeehouse in Aggieville to watch the walks of shame as the last night’s party-goers make their ways back to their own living quarters. Alright, if you insist….3) Take part in the celebration, but do be careful…there is probably more criminal activity that takes place on this one day than the rest of the year combined (not a verified statistic). And for your reference, MIP stands for Minor in Possession, not M*******ting in Public (police stats are confusing), but I’m pretty positive you will be arrested for both.
11. Pet Boarding/Day Care
There are a few options for doggie day care off-post, but most importantly, all places require that your animals be up to date on the following vaccines: Rabies, Bordatella, Influenza, and Distemper/Parvo. Also, your pets must be spayed or neutered. Lastly, KSU has a large veterinary medicine program so if there is anything outside the norm that your pet needs to be treated for then you can typically find your treatment there!
12. Visitors to Post
Doesn’t matter if you’re the passenger of a Soldier coming onto post. Everyone who doesn’t have a DOD ID and is over the age of 16 must go to the Henry gate Visitor’s Center to get a visitors’ pass.
13. Cold Winters & Hot Summers
Some years are worse than others, or should I say better?! I’m a glass half full kinda person for the most part. Let me put it to you this way, many of my friends who’ve been stationed in Alaska say that this place is colder because of the windchill. Kansas is just a windy place, so combine that with freezing temperatures and….yea, well you’re pretty cold. Summers can be equally brutal with high temps and humidity, but certainly not like Southern humidity.
14. Hunting, Trapping & Fishing
Ft. Riley is considered premier hunting territory as far as CONUS (Continental United States) duty stations go. The following information comes to you from some of the most obsessed hunters and trappers I’ve ever met…I legitimately cannot have a normal conversation with these cavemen without the topic of death and skinning coming up.
“Ft. Riley is a great place to be if you’re into these activities, and here’s why: there is a wide variety of species within striking distance, compared to posts like Alaska where the presence of exotic species is unbeatable but you have to travel a ways to find them. It’s a trapper’s paradise because of the amount of fur-bearing species present, to include beaver, coyote, skunk, raccoon, opossum, foxes, bobcats and badgers. While there is always some red tape involved with these activities, it is definitely worth it.” – Hunters and Trappers Anonymous (not a real organization)
15. Sunday is God’s Day
You cannot buy alcohol until noon on Sundays. Also, everyone goes to church so if you’re trying to do some grocery shopping on Sunday, you best be getting there before noon.
16. Burning Season
This is definitely something unique to the Ft. Riley area that you will not see at many other posts, and unless you grew up in a rural area, it may surprise you at first. Controlled burning is done during cooler months (usually beginning of Spring) to help stimulate new growth as well as burn some of the undergrowth that could cause dangerous fires during the hot months. Don’t be alarmed if you see burning right out your front or back door as there is usually a firetruck or fire monitors close by. They literally burn everywhere. The air will smell of smoke for weeks, but you will notice quick and beautiful growth of grass and other vegetation shortly afterwards.
Featured Photo by Randy Watson