K-State welcomes back ‘First Lightning’
Soldiers with 1st Bn., 7th FA Regt., toss shreds of newspaper into the air as the K-State men’s basketball team is announced Nov. 22 at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan.
Story by: Parker Rome
1ST INF. DIV. POST
A lot has changed since the last time the 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, visited its partners, the Kansas State University Men's Basketball Team for a game at Bramlage Coliseum.
The "First Lightning" Soldiers watched the Wildcats defeat Maryland Eastern-Shore, 92-50, Nov. 22 at the team's home court in Manhattan after returning from a deployment to Iraq.
Seven Soldiers didn't make the trip home, and their ultimate sacrifice was honored with a moment of silence before tipoff.
"That was really wonderful that they did that for us," said Command Sgt. Maj. William Bauer, command sergeant major, 1st Bn., 7th FA Regt. "It was bittersweet. The last time we were here, we were just getting ready to leave, and we had all of our Soldiers still. It was very heartwarming that they took the time and gave those Soldiers a tribute and let us know how much they cared about us and (that) the Soldiers aren't forgotten."
Just before the moment of silence, K-State head coach Frank Martin presented a bouquet of flowers and a basketball signed by the entire team and coach staff to Samantha Cook and her children, Hailee and Michael.
Cook's husband, Michael Cook Jr., was one of the seven Soldiers killed during the unit's deployment.
"I was very honored to be out there for him and honor him," Cook said. "It's amazing. It really is amazing to know how loved he was by people who didn't even know him."
Coach Martin offered her some support while handing her the bouquet.
"He told me if I ever needed anything to give him a call," Cook said. "He told me that if me and the kids ever wanted to come to the K-State games, to give him a call, and we'd be invited to come."
Cook said she might have to take him up on the offer to come back for another game.
"Apparently, I might need to because my daughter has been adopted into the cheerleading squad," she said. "She (was) down there screaming and cheering, and it's definitely a different sight for my daughter."
Before and after the moment of silence, the K-State fans showed their appreciation for the First Lightning Soldiers in attendance at the game.
Lt. Col. Andrew Gainey, commander, 1st Bn, 7th FA Regt., and Bauer accompanied the Cook Family onto the court.
"It was a feeling of exhilaration," Gainey said. "Coming back and just receiving the reception from the fans has been just absolutely phenomenal. I can't even describe it."
Bauer said the ovation and applause from the K-State fans helped reaffirm the support the American public has for its Soldiers.
"Sometimes as Soldiers, we don't really see that what we're doing means so much to the country," Bauer said. "We're out there just doing our job, doing what needs to be done. It's nice to see how much the American people really care about what we're doing."
Gainey said the partnership between his battalion and the K-State men's basketball team isn't a partnership in name.
"The partnership is closer than a partnership – it's like Family right now," he said. "What we had before was pretty close, but what we have now is even closer."
The two sides stayed in contact during the deployment, exchanging emails, text messages and videos.
"Every time something happened over there, Coach Martin was the first person to send us an email letting us know they're thinking about us and they're praying for us," Gainey said. "I will tell you, we're brothers."
Gainey said after K-State won its first round game of the NCAA tournament last spring, Martin sent him a text letting him know the team was thinking about the First Lightning Soldiers and praying for them.
"When I talk to him, he doesn't talk about basketball, he talks about 'How are the Soldiers doing?,' 'How are the guys doing?,' 'How are the Families doing,"' Gainey said.
Martin said it was awesome to have the First Lightning Soldiers back from Iraq.
"Having them back is great," Martin said. "These guys haven't had a chance to really spend a lot of time – our first-year guys and all of that – with the (1st Bn., 7th FA Regt.) in the last year and a half or so because they've been deployed," Martin said.
Plans are already being made for the K-State team to visit the First Lightning Soldiers at Fort Riley and train with them for a day, like the team did two years ago.
"These guys will get to know them because they're going to be around again," Martin said. "(We'll) get reacquainted with all the stuff that those guys do. It makes these young guys understand just how lucky we all are that we've got the strongest military in the world. I'm extremely proud of what those people do for us every single day."