By Laura M. LeveringAugust 13, 2010
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Not all Soldiers have loved ones to welcome them home from deployments. In an effort to make sure no Soldier comes home feeling unappreciated, the mayor of Gig Harbor and his wife are making sure no Soldier goes home to an empty barracks room.
The community of Gig Harbor pulled together and collected hundreds of snacks and toiletries for Soldiers assigned to 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade. The two are partnered through the military's community connector program, which helps build relationships between members of the community and the military.
The community gathered goods for 500 of the brigade's Soldiers who are scheduled to return Joint Base Lewis-McChord in late August and early September. Many of those Soldiers are single and will be calling otherwise empty barracks rooms "home."
Lieutenant Col. Roy Robbings, 201st BfSB Rear Detachment commander, said the community's collection will help Soldiers get settled while letting them know they are appreciated.
"They don't have to worry about getting immediate stuff they need," Robbings said. "It's just a token of letting them know the community cares about them and is thinking of them," Robbings said.
Robbings' wife, Tina, said the idea came up during one of the weekly town meetings she and Roy attend in Gig Harbor.
"With so many of our Soldiers being gone, (the community) wanted to show their support by doing something," Tina said. "We're not allowed to ask for anything, but we gave them a few ideas based on what others were doing, and they came up with this."
Dianne Hunter spearheaded the project with support from her husband, Mayor Chuck Hunter. The two started by asking friends for donations of snacks and toiletries.
"I sent e-mails to my friends, who sent them to their friends, and then I had a couple comm-unity groups who helped," Dianne said.
By the end of three months, a spare room in their home was packed wall-to-wall with bottled water, cookies, coffee, toiletries and other breakfast foods. Dianne said she was pleased to have met her goal of collecting enough for 500 Soldiers to "get by" for the first week of being home.
"We are very supportive out here of lots of different things going on, but we all really appreciate the service members," Dianne said.
Roy said being partnered with Gig Harbor has been an enlightening experience. In addition to his troops receiving support in the form of homemade cookies and other care-package goodies, the troops have gained insight to the civilian community.
"We're a very insular, enclosed community, and we don't always see what's on the other side of life," Roy said.
Mayor Hunter said the civilians also benefit by learning more about the military with its presence during weekly meetings.
"The average citizen doesn't really understand what's going on, and by coming to the meetings, it gets a little interaction going and people understand the role of what the military's doing for us," Chuck said.
"They help us so much with things like the annual Christmas tree cutting and other events, and we really want to show our appreciation by giving back," he said.
Laura M. Levering is a reporter with Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper, the Northwest Guardian.