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Lakewood’s new mayor has connection to JBLM

Lakewood Mayor Jason Whalen will work to strengthen the city’s relationship with Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo credit: Courtesy photo

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In an article entitled "Lakewood Mayor Jason Whalen on Ukraine," which appeared in the Suburban Times on Feb. 25, he wrote the following:

Lakewood is a military community, home to generations of active and retired military members and their families. Lakewood is also a global community, home to expatriates of Ukraine and eastern Europe.

These two sentences speak not only to the city's history with and connection to Joint Base Lewis-McChord but also to its newest mayor's connections to the base as well.

Elected to the Lakewood City Council in 2009, Whalen is the fifth mayor since the city's incorporation in 1996. He is also an Army veteran who has a strong connection to JBLM.

Giuseppe Pecoraro, Whalen's maternal grandfather, was born in 1891 in Mazara Del Vallo, Sicily. When he immigrated to this country, he changed his name to Joe Gray.

"A family named Gray employed him as a house boy," Whalen explained, "and he later came west, to Fort Benton, Montana, and began his life as a barber." Soon after he enlisted in the Army.

"In 1917, the war broke out and I wanted to go," wrote Gray in several notes. "So, I went with the first Chouteau County (Montana) contingent.  We landed at Camp Lewis, WA on Sept. 8, 1917."

Gray served with the 91st Division where he took part in the "big push in September 1918 in the Argonne Forest ... also participated in the big drive in Belgium that ended the War," he noted.

Coming home to Montana, he met a young teacher, married her, raised two daughters, one of whom would be Whalen's mother.

She married John Whalen, who had served in the Navy during World War II and the Korean War as a physician.

"Dad was offshore watching the Marines erect the flag on Iwo Jima," related Whalen.

A small-town doctor after his military service, he moved his family around the country.

"We moved to follow his career path, which lead us to Oklahoma City, OK, then to Ft. Collins, CO, back to Montana (to start his career with the Veterans Administration), then to Medford, OR, Juneau, AK, and finally, Spokane, WA," continued Whalen.

Moving as often as he did, he experienced what many military families experience, constantly having to reestablish themselves.  

"Because of this, I was resilient and diligent; I set goals for myself and worked hard to achieve them. I never believed that I would be given anything other than an opportunity to make my own way," explained Whalen.

While attending a small K-8 public school north of Spokane, Mick Burns, Whalen's eight-grade teacher, told him he talked too much in class and suggested that when he entered high school, he should join the debate team.

Whalen remembered those words, and in 1980 while at North Central High School in Spokane he won the Washington State Debate Championship, and a two-year scholarship to Gonzaga University to compete on its debate team.

While at the university, Whalen entered the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program. Due to his academic standing, leadership activities and debating skills, in 1985 he was voted Senior of the Year, was commissioned a second lieutenant and honored as a Distinguished Military Graduate.

As if to complete the arc of family history begun by his grandfather, Whalen's first assignment was to support the 4th ROTC Region Advanced Camp Training at Ft. Lewis.

"I had spent prior summers training at Ft. Lewis as a cadet and enjoyed the connection, having served there almost 70 years after my grandfather."

Whalen served from 1985 to 1992 as a field artillery officer in both the active and reserve components.

"Like so many service members, I learned that good leadership understands that respect is earned, not demanded," he said.

After law school, Whalen earned the opportunity to clerk for retired Washington Supreme Court Justice Richard P. Guy, began his legal career and in 2009 was elected to the Lakewood City Council.

During his tenure on the council, he and his colleagues have worked to create and maintain the South Sound Military and Communities Partnership in order to strengthen the connection between Lakewood and the military members, their families, both active and retired.

"JBLM is critical to our nation's defense and, thus, to the health and vitality of our community," Whalen said, "and as such, we must do our part to support our military members and their families in our community."

Not only do these words speak to Whalen's commitment to the City of Lakewood and JBLM, they also speak to his belief that the city and the base represent the hope for a peaceful and prosperous world.

Now, a free nation is under siege, and we watch this incursion unfold with horror and uncertainty. We stand in solidarity with Ukraine and her people here in our city and country.

Many that live in Lakewood have known war and the personal impact of armed conflict. We embrace our veterans and active military watching this conflict with great anxiety. We share a collective hope that peace may soon be restored.

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