'Vanguard' Battalion, K-State rugby club form partnership

Story and photos by Sgt. Daniel Stoutamire, 2nd HBCT, 1st Inf. Div.

MANHATTAN, Kans. - Kansas State University/Fort Riley Rugby Club players
celebrated their new partnership with the Soldiers of the 1st Infantry
Division's 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment March 3 with a decisive win
over a Wichita club team.

The match, played out on the historic field of K-State's Memorial Stadium,
was the first since the "Vanguard" battalion struck up a partnership with
the university's rugby club. Lt. Col. John Cross, commander of the Vanguard
battalion, met with the team captain and coaches in February to outline the
details of the partnership, one they hoped would be mutually beneficial.

"This is an opportunity for the Soldiers and the student-athletes at K-State
to get to know each other better on the so-called 'field of friendly
strife,'" the commander said. "We can come to a better understanding of what
each person does - they get a better understanding of what we do in the
military and we get a better understanding of what they do as

The battalion provided a color guard for the playing of the national anthem
prior to the March 3 game and brought a large cheering section of uniformed
Soldiers to support the home side.

"It was great to see all those Soldiers in the stands supporting us, and I
know the guys on the team really appreciated it too," said Danny Blea, the
head coach of the club.

The process of finding a KSU team or club with which to partner began back
in 2010, Cross said, when he first took command of the unit and saw that
fellow battalions on Fort Riley had mutually-beneficial partnerships with
other sports teams. However, the brigade's recent deployment in support of
Operation New Dawn meant arrangements had to be put on hold.

"When we got back, we sat down with Art DeGroat, the director of military
affairs at K-State, and talked to him about [partnering with a KSU team or
club]," Cross said.

During the conversation, DeGroat mentioned the university was looking to
expand partnerships outside NCAA-sanctioned teams, and Cross was given a
list of 28 different club teams registered at the school, of varying levels
of participation and sophistication.

"I said, 'Let's do rugby,'" Cross said. "It's a great sport, very akin to
what we in the Combat Arms do every day-it's a very physical game, involves
a lot of running, requires great cardiovascular endurance, but at the same
time there is a lot hitting."

Getting Soldiers raised on American sports like basketball and football to
understand the intricacies and nuances of a complicated sport like rugby
might take time, both Cross and Blea admitted, but there has already been
interest and enthusiasm on the part of Soldiers in the battalion to join the
club and learn the sport.

"We've already had guys show interest," Blea said.

Mike Duncan, an assistant coach at the club, agreed with Blea.

"A lot of guys over the years have come to Fort Riley, learned about K-State
rugby, and ended up going on to finish their educations and staying around
town for a long time," he said.

While Soldiers can benefit from closer ties to their community, Duncan said,
his student-athletes could learn a few things from their military partners
as well.

"The example that Soldiers can set for us is a good one-discipline,
camaraderie, teamwork-these rugby players can really benefit from that
example," he said.