Gig Harbor Mayor Jill Guernsey got a big surprise from Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers during a routine meeting May 26 at City Hall.
Although not a top-secret mission, it was pretty close. Only a select few knew Guernsey was going to be named the honorary commander of the 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade during what she thought was a military ceremony.
“The City Council didn’t even know about this,” said 1st Lt. Mark Wolf, the brigade’s public affairs officer.
After the beginning of the public meeting, the commander and commander sergeant major of the 201st called Guernsey in front of a U.S. flag. With a look of surprise and joy, Guernsey was sworn in as an honorary Army colonel for the 201st BfSB, receiving a rank of colonel and frame with the oath.
“I was very surprised and very honored,” Guernsey said. “I’ve never heard of such a thing, and I have such a fondness for the 201st and how much effort they put into the community.”
The ceremony was an act of appreciation to Guernsey and the city of Gig Harbor from the 201st, as well as a farewell from Col. Daniel Soller, commander of the 201st BfSB, who is leaving command in July.
“This is not a typical thing for the Army to do — we’ve only heard of the Air Force and one Army unit doing this — but we thought it was a great idea,” Wolf said.
The 201st chose Guernsey to represent it as honorary commander because of its strong connection with her and the city of Gig Harbor.
“Our relationship with Gig Harbor is absolutely amazing,” Wolf said. “We do all kinds of things for them, and they’ve helped us. They are very warm and welcoming.”
Although the city and the 201st have held a partnership for around five years, Soller said it really took off in the last year and a half after Guernsey became mayor.
“Ever since she was installed, the relationship has blossomed,” Soller said. “She’s innovative, aggressive and won’t accept mediocrity.”
The working relationship between Gig Harbor and the 201st has included collaborating in more than 30 events and programs such as the I Corps Community Connector Program.
“Gig Harbor has very much taken the program and ran with it,” Wolf said. “The program gets soldiers in touch with the community around them and allows the military to build trust.”
Additionally, Wolf said Gig Harbor has done a lot for deployed soldiers — sending them gifts — and have helped in efforts to raise $40,000 for Military Appreciation Day last year, and have already raised thousands again this year.
“Us and the community — we really get along,” Wolf said. “They have great respect for the military in Gig Harbor.”
After all the support from the city, the unit’s leadership couldn’t think of a better or more unique way to show their appreciation.
“This is the best community relationship I’ve ever seen, and with her the partnership was reinvigorated,” Soller said.
Wolf said their partnership and support will only continue to grow.
“It’s a give and take relationship. Whenever they have a request we’ll support them, and when we have events we’ll do them in Gig Harbor,” Wolf said.
Guernsey agreed adding that members of the 201st have already done a lot, such as being involved in their local Association of the U.S. Army chapter, attending their public affairs forums every week and even putting together a team for Gig Harbor’s Dragon Boat race in April.
“If anybody in the community ever needed them, they’d be there for us,” Guernsey said. “I think its wonderful the fact that they’re dedicated to the community.”
As honorary commander, Guernsey will hold a figurehead position and not have any responsibilities. The unit’s leadership does not plan to select another honorary commander until Guernsey leaves office.
“This will run till she’s out of office — this is not something we do lightly,” Soller said.
The next 201st event in Gig Harbor will be Military Appreciation Day in August.