FORT RILEY — Fort Riley will soon have more soldiers stationed at the Army base than at any point since 1994, the outgoing commander of the 1st Infantry Division said Tuesday.
Maj. Gen. Vincent Brooks, who on May 25 hands off command to William C. Mayville, said soldiers are returning home from combat and that by late this year or early next, the on-base numbers will reach a 17-year high.
"It does mean that we have something of a homecoming," he said.
There are 18,100 soldiers assigned to the northeast Kansas post, nearly double the population since the Department of Defense announced in 2005 that the 1st Infantry Division headquarters and units were returning from Germany to Kansas.
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No more than 10,000 or so have ever been on post at one time because of deployments. Brooks said the increased time that soldiers are spending at home between deployments means the post could house as many as 14,000 or more for extended periods.
"We expect that we will see a longer period of time between deployments," Brooks said. "We hoped it would come years before 2011. But the nature of our pace is the demand really exceeded the supply of units."
He said that as a result, deployments were longer and return times at home installations were shorter. Brooks said that should change and the time home could be as long as 22 months and deployments will last 12 months for most units.
There also will be an estimated 22 percent increase in the number of families, going from 9,000 to 11,000. He said 60 percent of those families live off Fort Riley and in the surrounding communities. The increase helped Geary County to become the fastest-growing county in Kansas during the past decade.
"It was a boomtown upon my arrival in 2009," Brooks said, adding that the growth on post in recent years has pushed Fort Riley's economic impact on Kansas to more than $2.2 billion annually.
On Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates will be on post to break ground on a new elementary school. Gates visited Fort Riley in 2010 and members of the Kansas congressional delegation lobbied for additional funds for the school to alleviate crowding caused by the increase in soldiers and families.
Brooks has spent the past two years at Fort Riley, including a yearlong deployment in Iraq last year. He becomes commanding general of the U.S. 3rd Army and the Army component of U.S. Central Command at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina.