Wabashin' Baghdad: Wildcats Serve in Iraq With Fort Riley Aviation Brigade
PAO eCAB, 1st Inf. Div.CAMP TAJI, Iraq - Seven Army officers commissioned from Kansas State University have made a full-circle journey from class to combat in Iraq, where they are assigned to an aviation brigade from neighboring Fort Riley, Kan.
The officers graduated from the university's Army ROTC program at different times, and are serving together in the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. While they now wear combat uniforms, the consensus among the graduates is that they still "bleed purple."
Second Lt. Chance Moyer, of Chanute, Kan., graduated from K-State in 2009 and arrived at Fort Riley just weeks before deploying to Iraq. Moyer serves as the brigade's medical planner, and is responsible for managing administrative work at several clinics on Camp Taji, Iraq.
Moyer missed out on the university's football season this year, but said that he still had a chance to show his Wildcat pride in Iraq. Moyer and 1st Lt. Jerimiah Wood, another K-State graduate and Manhattan native, were put in charge of leading a group of the brigade's troops in the "Wabash Cannonball," a traditional college fight song, during the filming of a K-State and Fort Riley partnership video.
"I was a little surprised to be doing the Wabash here," said Moyer, adding that he figured that his days of pep rallies and purple flags would be put on hold while he was deployed. "But I was also surprised by the response we got, with everyone pulling out their KSU banners and really getting into it."
Moyer and Wood were in the same class of cadets at the university, and even served together in the program's student leadership chain of command.
Capt. Gregory Gabel, a Black Hawk helicopter pilot, also managed to bring some Wildcat spirit to his deployment. Gabel went on his rest and recuperation leave during the heart of the university's football season and went to three games before returning to Iraq.
"Manhattan's a great town to live, work and play in," said Gabel. "We were glad to finally get back to the area."
Gabel grew up in Montana, but his wife Ellen is a native of Chanute, the same town Moyer is from.
"I graduated in 2001, went to flight school, and spent a few years at other military bases," said Gabel, "but I still definitely bleed purple."
Capt. Jonathan Spikes, another Manhattan native, is also serving with the brigade as a Black Hawk pilot. Spikes completed a two-year masters program at K-State. During his time in ROTC there he decided to become a medical evacuation pilot, he said.
"I actually thought that my eye-sight wasn't good enough to be a pilot, but the professor of military science, Lt. Col. George Belin, checked into it for me and we found out that I was within regulations to get the job," said Spikes. "I thought that being a medevac pilot would be the coolest thing in the world, and it's been pretty awesome so far."
Spikes shadowed a medevac team leader from the brigade on Fort Riley in 2006 before graduation. He now flies with some of the same pilots he met then, he said.
"It's definitely been full-circle, with a lot of great people along way," said Spikes about his transition from the university to the brigade. "It's good to be back around mom and dad."
Spikes has more than just an alumni-tie to the Manhattan area. His father works as a professor at K-State, and his mother works as a professor at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina.
Also flying helicopters over Iraq for the brigade is Capt. Donald Indermuehle, who graduated from the university in 2007.
"I wasn't born there, but Manhattan is home as far as I'm concerned," said Indermuehle. "I can't wait to go back. There's a lot of good relationships I've been able to make in the community there."
Indermuehle flies the Chinook, the Army's distinctively large, yet fast, helicopter. He was recently promoted to the rank of captain by his father, Lt. Col. David Indermuehle, who is deployed to Iraq with another Fort Riley brigade.
Capt. Ryan Cooley, a logistics officer and native of Shawnee, Kan., graduated from K-State in 2006, one class ahead of Spikes and Indermuehle. Since his time in ROTC, Cooley has been at full-speed in the "real Army," he said.
Shortly after graduation, Cooley deployed with the brigade to Iraq as part of the troop surge. Now he's back for another deployment with the brigade supporting the final months of the Iraq war. During these tours, Cooley has performed duties ranging from fueling and arming aircraft to managing unit budgets.
Cooley said that during deployments he misses Kansas the most in the fall, a time he used to spend busy as an outdoorsman. The brigade will remain in Iraq this fall, but is scheduled to return to Fort Riley in March. Meanwhile all of its members, including its Wildcat officers, are staying busy serving as the Army's only aviation brigade supporting Operation New Dawn.
"I thought I'd return to the area, but not so early in my career," said Cooley. "It's been a privilege serving with the historic 1st Infantry Division and living in a community that is overwhelmingly supportive of the military."
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