As the outdoor recreation (ODR) program manager for the U.S. Air Force since 1986, Phillip Heeg plays a critical role supporting recreation opportunities for millions of Air Force servicemembers and their families. In this position, Heeg delivers strategic direction for the 95 ODR operations at Air Force installations as well as several joint bases worldwide.
Currently, Heeg is working on an initiative to conduct an Air Force-wide campout. We spoke with him about his career, his involvement with NRPA and his plan to offer the flying arm of the military a new experience under the stars.
Parks & Recreation Magazine: How did you first get involved in military recreation?
Phillip Heeg: In 1982, I was finishing my graduate course work at Texas A&M and looking for a job. Dr. John Crompton, my committee chair, was doing some contract work for Air Force Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) and told me about a new job covering recreation, marketing and research. I knew nothing about military recreation, but the job sounded like a good fit and paid a little bit better than most. The Air Force hired me as the MWR marketing and research specialist, and I moved to San Antonio to start work at what was then the Air Force Military Personnel Center on Randolph Air Force Base. I really had no idea what an amazing career I was about to begin.
P&R: What tasks are you responsible for as outdoor recreation program manager for the U.S. Air Force?
Heeg: I write and propose Air Force-wide policies and procedures, develop and conduct training classes and conferences, and write training aids to ensure ODR managers have the tools needed to effectively manage their operations. I also provide technical expertise to Air Force installations as requested or following safety incidents and support the Air Force headquarters staff in Washington, D.C. In addition, I’ve put what I learned in business classes to use performing annual financial reviews, responding to Air Force and professional accounting firm audits, and providing input on all ODR major construction projects.
P&R: When did you develop the idea to create the Air Force Base Camp campout?
Heeg: In 2006, I created the Four Season Family Program initiative to help promote whole-family ODR participation on a regular basis. One of the many examples of possible activities listed in the program guide was to offer group family camping events. Fast forward to about a year and a half ago, our leadership established a new approval and oversight structure for programs or events centrally supported from AFPC (Air Force Personnel Center). Since every installation has a park or some other area that could be used for a group camping event, I built a proposal and we decided to pilot test the “Air Force Base Camp.”
P&R: What topics have you spoken on at NRPA’s Congress, and how else have you been involved in NRPA since you became a member?
Heeg: NRPA has been a big part of my career since I first joined in 1989. That includes holding CPRP status since 1990, completing my first AFO course in 1994, and completing all three levels of the National Aquatics Management School. I also serve as the Air Force representative to the Armed Forces Recreation Network (third time since 1989) and was recognized by NRPA’s military recreation community with the Fellow (1990) and Executive Fellow (1995) awards. My presentations at NRPA events include sessions on careers in armed forces recreation, creating playgrounds and programs for families with disabilities, the Four Season Family Program, and armed forces and inclusive recreation.
P&R: Anything else you’d like to share?
Heeg: One of the things I hadn’t anticipated when I started was how tangible the impacts of MWR programs can be on our installations. Seeing how our efforts impact the servicemembers, their families, and the military units that carry out the mission is evident on a daily basis, and that’s very rewarding.
Heeg lives in Schertz, Texas, with his wife, Alice, and the two are proud parents of 20- and 13-year-old sons.
Interview by Danielle Taylor, Senior Editor of Parks & Recreation Magazine.