News: Community leaders visit JBLM
Story by Staff Sgt. Antwaun Parrish
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Service members travel great distances away from home to serve their country. Many never even left their home state before joining. Connecting to a place helps ensure a smooth integration process into their new communities.
Since March 2000, the Community Connections Program has been building closer ties with surrounding communities by partnering 16 major Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Army units with local municipalities.
“I think it’s important to connect,” said Don Anderson, Lakewood, Wash.’s deputy mayor. “My wife teaches in Dupont, and 50 percent of her students are military. Most of them deal with deployments and family disruption. So it’s important for the communities to be behind the families.”
Anderson, along with other community leaders from the surrounding areas, came to JBLM’s Mission Training Complex Sep. 20 for a community connection orientation day. The event showcased activities throughout the afternoon culminating with an evening social at the I Corps commanding general’s house, Lt. Gen. Robert Brown.
The purpose of the orientation was to foster and maintain strong Army relations within the community.
“It was wonderful to receive the invitation from the commander,” said Javier Figueroa, a University Place, Wash. city council member. “I was a door gunner during Vietnam, when people were disconnected from the military.”
The guests had the chance to climb aboard a Stryker, drive a simulated Stryker and also were given a class on how Soldiers are trained to engage with host country civilians when deployed.
“I was in the Navy 30 years ago,” Anderson said. “The service members today are better trained, more fit, smarter and more equipped. It’s wonderful to see they get the tools they need to do the things their country asks of them.”
The Lakewood community is partnered with 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, who is preparing for an upcoming deployment. Anderson expressed his excitement to see what exactly they do and is preparing to meet with members of the unit before they depart.
“We’ve been very involved in the South Sound Community Partnership,” Anderson said. “It’s a good feeling to get a hands-on feel of the day to day activities our friends in the Stryker brigade do.”
University Place is another small community nestled north of JBLM. Figueroa stated that his city is partnered with the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, and that his community has many retirees and military family members. Although he enjoys the unit he sponsors, he extends his community’s hand to anyone looking for a place to call home.
“When Soldiers are in our corner of the world it is so important to open the door and make them feel welcomed for the period of time they’re here,” said Figueroa. “They will go out feeling better about themselves, which will transfer and show in their organization and their work. The mental gain is as important as the physical gain. If we can send a Soldier to combat or training feeling better about themselves it’s a plus.”
Soldiers were there to answer questions for the guests and guide them through their visit to the Mission Training Complex. Sgt. 1st Class Cory Hawbaker, small unit trainer noncommissioned officer, felt great about the visit and the impact that it has.
“I’m glad to be part of this so we can help out and bridge the gap between Soldiers and civilians, said Hawbaker, who currently resides in Tumwater, Wash. “It works out better for everyone.”
The program’s goals are to increase interaction between military and local communities, enhance understanding of today’s Army and develop and maintain strong positive community partnerships.