By Gail Wood
Whether it’s setting up a Christmas photo of a child sitting next to Santa, or organizing a “modeling” day for 30 spouses of servicemen or putting together welcome-home packages for soldiers, Ken Swarner is usually the behind-the-scenes coordinator.
When it comes to recognizing soldiers and their families, Swarner is always ready to pitch in and help.
“He has such a compassion for these soldiers,” said Denise Dhane, a long-time friend and co-helper. “Whenever there are soldiers and there is a need, Ken Swarner is there.”
His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Swarner, who lives in DuPont and co-owns the weekly newspaper The Ranger with his brother, has been inducted into the Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Civilian Hall of Fame.
At one point during this country’s 11-year battle against terrorist in the Middle East, about 12,000 troops from JBLM were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers left behind spouses and children. Swarner did his best to bring some comfort in that year-long assignment by sponsoring and organizing family events.
“This is what we can do,” Swarner said. “It’s how I serve our country.”
And it’s how he can say thanks to those that serve in the military.
In a decade, a thank-you project Swarner called “Single Soldier Program” has taken care of about 10,000 soldiers. Because of Swarner and Dhane, soldiers that are not married have a basket of goodies filled with toiletries and snacks on their bunk beds waiting for them when they return from assignments in the Middle East. Swarner and Dhane have become the dynamic duo, quick to make sure the returning soldiers get thanked.
“Our objective is that no soldier is ever going to come home through the backdoor of this country again,” Dhane said. “This is not ever going to be like Vietnam. We are going to make sure that never happens again.”
Swarner never seems to run out of ways of thanking the soldiers and supporting the families. He’s often on the phone, asking for help. He’s always amazed at the support from businesses and individuals. In five years, he said there’s been over $100,000 raised in cash and products for the “Single Soldier Project.”
“It’s just amazing,” Swarner said. “It’s been great.”
Over the years, Swarner has attempted to ease military family’s anxiety with a variety of projects. He organized a salute to “Our Unsung Heroes,” which honored over 2,000 military children. He also arranged free photos of children sitting next to Santa that were mailed to the child’s parent, a soldier deployed in the Middle East.
One year, Swarner arranged a baby shower for about a 1,000 pregnant military spouses. In October, 30 wives of soldiers will model clothes from Macy’s. On “pampering” days, Swarner, with the generous support of community sponsors, helps spouses and children get haircuts, teeth whitening, massages and food – all free.
Several years ago, Swarner and Dhane helped send 1,460 gift boxes to Afghanistan for the Fifth Brigade.
“Ken has done so many things,” Dhane said. “He did a baby shower one year. I think some major networks picked it up. It was unbelievable.”
The JBLM’s Civilian Hall of Fame was started in 2003 and there have been 17 people inducted. Dhane, who has also been inducted, said Swarner is a deserving inductee.
“Wherever there are soldiers and there is a need, Ken Swarner is there,” Dhane said. “He hits the ground running and he doesn’t stop until the job is done. It’s fun. We have a great time.”
Swarner, 47, was never in the military. But his parents owned The Ranger in the 1960s and he’s grown up around soldiers, hearing their stories. Swarner started working at the newspaper when he was 11. Before he took over the paper from his parents in 2006 with his brother, Swarner wrote for The Ranger and was a syndicated columnist. His stories about being a dad were published in the Spokesman Review and the Vancouver Columbian.
“Ken just has a way about him,” Dhane said. “He just gets people to do stuff. He just has so much credibility. People know that when Ken is involved, it’s going to be something wonderful. He performs magic. He really does.”