When we think of American women and men in uniform, how they recreate typically isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. While enlisted members of the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard do spend a great deal of their time working to carry out and protect the interests of the United States, they have off-hours, too. Filling that time with a diverse array of leisure opportunities is the job of Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) professionals, who oversee and administrate recreational programming designed for U.S. military personnel and their families stationed at home and abroad. As this is our Military issue, Parks & Recreation magazine asked Nancy Dussault, outdoor recreation program specialist with the U.S. Marine Corps Semper Fit and Recreation Branch (MFS); Josh Gwinn, IMCOM G9 community recreation chief for the U.S. Army; and Brian Rockenbach, CNIC Afloat Recreation Specialist for the U.S. Navy the following question: What is the most pervasive challenge you experience in trying to provide diverse and engaging recreational opportunities for enlisted women and men, as well as their families? Below are their responses.
The greatest challenge is to be relevant to our customers, Marines and our Commanders. Relevance has many sides — relevant to a new generation of young Marines entering the Corps every year, relevant to Commanders in that they are engaged with and support Semper Fit and Recreation programs, and relevant to key stakeholders who direct resources to the various Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS) programs across the Corps.
In a resource-constrained environment, the Marine Corps has embarked on a major strategic-planning effort to help shape the future of Semper Fit and Recreation. This effort can be summarized in the following manner: On a given day, Marines need to “get stuff done,” so that when they are off-duty they can “reconnect,” “reignite” and “refuel.” We identify these as targets of opportunity when looking at the programs offered and the manner by which they are delivered, while also exploring avenues for developing partnerships with off-base entities.
Our mission is to provide the “Total Force” with a healthy environment and provide relevant programs and services that sustain readiness, enhance quality of life and promote community wellness. This is a holistic approach that supports the balance of social, physical, spiritual and mental well-being of individuals and encourages optimal health where people live, work and play.
Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (FMWR) is the military equivalent of municipal park and recreation departments. FMWR offers traditional components, like parks, marinas, outdoor recreation programs, recreation centers, sports programs and golf courses. In addition, FMWR provides child care, Armed Forces recreation centers, libraries, travel services, auto skills, bowling centers, food and beverage operations and a variety of social-service programs. These programs are delivered by a staff of more than 30,000 FMWR professionals around the world, at more than 75 garrisons, in places like Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy, Kuwait and various deployed locations.
When I began my career in FMWR in the late 1990s, the Army was primarily a garrison-based force with a predictable operational tempo (OPTEMPO). That changed in 2001 when soldiers began deploying to locations in the Middle East. Since then, the OPTEMPO has only increased, and the impact of more than a decade of high-OPTEMPO has significantly impacted soldiers and their families. As a result, FMWR had to quickly refocus program offerings and how we supported the Army mission, soldiers and their families in both a deployed and stationed status. We’ve created programs like Warrior Adventure Quest, an outdoor recreation program that seeks to mitigate high-risk behavior by teaching life skills through high-adventure programs. This was accomplished in a time when financial resources were in high demand due to multiple engagements throughout the world.
Although challenging, nothing has been more rewarding than seeing FMWR positively impact the lives of our Army family. The dedicated men and women of FMWR have been vital in providing quality-of-life programs that impact the readiness of our force.
Navy civilian employees who provide Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs for the Navy while assigned to some of the largest ships in the Navy’s fleet are known as Afloat Recreation Specialists, better known as the ship’s “Fun Boss.” These professionals aboard amphibious assault ships and aircraft carriers face a unique set of challenges much different than the typical recreation programmer.
The Fun Boss lives aboard ship in tight quarters 24/7 for six to nine months at a time and has many different responsibilities since they are the only recreation professional onboard, serving the needs of thousands of young, active-duty sailors and Marines. A typical day can mean running a basketball tournament in the afternoon, putting on a holiday event that evening and, the next day, hosting a live, televised bingo broadcast. If the ship is making a port call, there are logistics to arrange and sightseeing information to announce to smooth the way for a sailor or Marine’s first memorable trip to that locale. Afloat Recreation Specialists bring creativity and energy to their recreational programming to engage sailors and build a robust program. How can one person accomplish this when the ship is deployed out to sea? A good strategy is to use the talents and diversity of the crew and empower them to start special recreation interest groups and lead their own activities. The Fun Boss guides and supports these events and groups, alleviating the need for having a single person lead all programs. By learning to create advertisements, procuring supplies, training the activity leaders and making announcements over the ship’s PA system, sailors learn new and more diverse recreational activities and fitness programs from each other. By creating and managing systems, teams, special interest groups and programs, the Afloat Recreation Specialist empowers crew members to be active in guiding the path of their recreation department onboard the ship.
This grassroots approach to programming challenges can actually be a strength of the Morale, Welfare and Recreation program onboard the Navy’s largest ships.
— Samantha Bartram, Executive Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine