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Military community connects with Gig Harbor

Sgt. Sarah Enos Seth Lewis, 8, explores an Humvee Aug. 7 during National Night Out in Gig Harbor, community connector city of 201st BfSB, one of 15 JBLM units with similar partnerships under the Community Connector Program.

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GIG HARBOR, Wash.- More than 1,200 residents throughout Gig Harbor 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, 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.

"These guys came over and said ‘kids, we'll help,' " entertainer Cris Larsen said. "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 a Humvee, surveillance cameras, viper laser range finders, military weapons, high frequency radios and a parachute.

The Humvee on display attracted children, like 8-year-old Seth Lewis, who climbed on it.

"He's never seen anything like it," said Caroline Lewis, Seth's mother. "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 inspected military equipment they had only seen 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," Staff Sgt. Dustin Ward, long-range surveillence team leader, said. "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."

Gig Harbor residents had the opportunity to meet Soldiers and the other first-responders from their community.

"I feel very fortunate to have the military participate in National Night Out," Morton Altman, a volunteer with Citizens Offering Police Support. said. "They are a large part of our community and provide a lot of support to the city."

Aitken described the relationship as a close partnership between Gig Harbor and his brigade.

"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, a Gig Harbor Police detective, saw the night out as an opportunity for the military to integrate 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 (safeguards the U.S.) nationally, so we just have to concentrate locally."

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