News: Military community connects with Gig Harbor
Story by Sgt. Sarah Enos
GIG HARBOR, Wash. - More than 1,200 residents throughout Gig Harbor, Wash. area gathered together in front of city hall in the evening, Aug. 7, as part of the 29th annual National Night Out.
The event is a national crime and drug prevention campaign, which generates support for local anti-crime efforts, strengthens police-community relations and sends criminals the message that neighborhoods are rising up against them.
Soldiers from the 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., local law enforcement, the fire department, and other agencies and service members from individual military bases showed off their equipment, conducted demonstrations and provided food and entertainment for local families.
The 201st BfSB partnership with the community began more than 12 years ago.
“We are part of their community,” said Lt. Col. Mark Aitken, commander, 3rd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 201st BfSB. “Coming out for their National Night Out really does just build that closer bond between JBLM, the 201st BfSB, and the folks here in Gig Harbor.”
As Soldiers from the long range surveillance squadron unloaded their military equipment for display, they noticed Boy Scouts setting up chairs in front of the stage and pitched in to help.
“These guys came over and said ‘kids, we’ll help,’ ” said Cris Larsen, an entertainer for the event. “They didn’t take it over, but they bonded with them. They helped them and worked as a team. You don’t get that without putting on this kind of event.”
The team of six brought surveillance cameras, viper laser range finder, military weapons, high frequency radios, a parachute and a Humvee.
One of the popular items at the event was the Humvee on display from JBLM. Children, such as 8-year-old Seth Lewis, were allowed to climb in and out of the Humvee.
“He’s never seen anything like it,” said Caroline Lewis, Seth’s mother and resident of Gig Harbor. “So at first he was kind of scared, but now he is asking to explore all the military equipment.”
“When I look out and see kids playing in a safe environment such as this, I believe any mystery of what a military person is, is dispelled,” Larsen said. “Because they are getting up close and personal.”
Attendees were able to discover some of the military gear they would normally only see on television or in video games.
“Our community in the Army is pretty small, so I think the general public doesn’t really know about it,” said Staff Sgt. Dustin Ward, long-range surveillence team leader. “Hopefully the equipment we brought can open the public’s eyes to other careers that are in the Army, especially if they like cameras and video editing.”
Throughout the event, Gig Harbor residents had the opportunity to meet and greet Soldiers and the other first-responders within their community.
"I feel very fortunate to have the military participate in National Night Out," said Morton Altman, a volunteer with Citizens Offering Police Support. "They are a large part of our community and provide a lot of support to the city."
Describing the close partnership between the city of Gig Harbor and his brigade, Aitken said, “We have such a great relationship with the folks out here and they do a lot, even for our deployed battalions. Our Soldiers get to see the respect the community has of them.”
One reason the military participated in the National Night Out was to show the community how the military plays a role in security.
Mike Cabacungan, detective for Gig Harbor Police Department, explained his view on how the military integrates with the community.
“They flex their power, not only locally, but also internationally,” Cabacungan said. “It makes our job in law enforcement easier because the military is watching the nation nationally, so we just have to concentrate locally.”
The 201st BfSB and other unit’s on JBLM continue to participate in community connector programs to strengthen their relationship throughout local neighborhoods.