New DOT Communications Manager has seen the battlefield and the Beltway

pionk-1The new Communications Manager for King County DOT is a self-described “military brat,” who has just retired from a remarkable career in which he helped legitimize the government of Afghanistan, advised a Presidential appointee at the Pentagon, and spoke for the Army on the integration of women into combat duty.

Jerome Pionk was born in Seoul, Korea, to a Korean mother and an American combat engineer. Over his 22-year military career he held a variety of leadership and staff positions around the world, and since 2004 served as an Army spokesman and Public Affairs Officer.

Domestically, he worked alongside FEMA as a spokesman and public affairs officer during Hurricanes Charles, Ivan, Francis, Wilma and Katrina, and served as a trainer to civil authorities and reserve units throughout Florida.

Afghan woman in classroom around table

At the Kandahar Institute of Modern Studies, Pionk taught English and the basics of democracy to Afghan women who risked their lives to attend classes.

In Asia, Pionk was a deputy public affairs manager for the Eighth United States Army and United States Forces Korea. In Afghanistan, he served as a media and strategic communications advisor to the Governor of Kandahar and the President of Afghanistan, trained some of that nation’s journalists and spokespeople, oversaw a multinational joint NATO communications team, and implemented key initiatives that led to a successful transition of power under the Afghanistan Constitution.

two decorated Army officers at award presentation

Lt. Gen. James C. McConville presents the Legion of Merit to Lt. Col. Pionk during his retirement ceremony at the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes.”

In the Pentagon most recently, Pionk served as Director of Public Affairs for the Army Assistant Secretary of Manpower and Reserve Affairs and Deputy Chief of Staff of Personnel. In that role he briefed the Pentagon press corps on such politically sensitive issues as religious, transgender, and gender integration, maternity leave, and breastfeeding. He recently retired from active duty as a Lt. Colonel.

Pionk has close ties with friends and colleagues locally and says he is eager to return permanently to this region, having earned his BA in journalism in 1995 from Seattle University, where he served as managing editor of its weekly newspaper, The Spectator.

“I love Seattle. I spent some of my most formative years here and am very excited to be able to have my own family live here and become active members of the community,” he says. “Seattle has seen such incredible growth since I last lived here and is only going to continue to prosper.”

Pionk also holds a graduate certification in multimedia communications from the University of California, Davis, an MBA from Columbia Southern University, and an Accreditation in Public Relations from the Public Relations Society of America.

“I’ve pretty much succeeded by working hard, thinking strategically, being a team player, and fostering others to do the same. At King County DOT I intend to further strengthen relationships and build connections with the community that are meaningful. Leveraging technology with more human interaction is going to be one way we do that. It will take a measured approach with a commitment to caring that will hopefully reap rewards for the long haul. I welcome this opportunity to be a part of the team at DOT and look forward to serving the people of the region.”

Pionk has met with all our Division Directors, including Jennifer Lindwall of Fleet Management, who notes, “Jerry has had success as a communications professional with the Pentagon and the Army and will surely bring his unflappable, even-keeled approach to his work here at DOT. I look forward to working with him and hearing his perspective and advice on our communication needs.”

Jerome Pionk succeeds Betty Gulledge-Bennett, who retired on December 31. His first day here will be January 17.