When talking to other young professionals, college students and colleagues in the park and recreation field, one of the questions I hear most is, “How do I get the experience needed to advance in the field?” My answer: There is no substitute for hands-on experience. In college and through internships, we learn many skills but don’t always have the opportunity to put them into action until later in our careers where we may end up being labeled the sports, outdoor, aquatics or grounds person as a result of highly siloed entry-level positions. My advice to any young professional seeking a complete experience in parks and recreation is to seek out and begin a career with Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR). MWR is an exciting career field within the world of parks and recreation and offers great hands-on experience in many areas that will prepare you for your next interview, a professional certification exam, and give you confidence in your career.
Military parks and recreation programs are expansive and offer everything you would see at a traditional, community-based agency. MWR facilities are top-notch. If there is a trending program or activity, it is being offered. Activities include skydiving, intramural sports and leagues, hunting, outdoor adventure, youth and childcare, special events, retirees, camping, marinas, boating, equestrian, bowling, theaters, park development, community centers, libraries, water parks, aquatics, marksmanship, gaming, technology, fitness, hospitality and lodging, resorts, food service, therapeutic, auto skills, social work, equipment rentals, maintenance, project management, training, certifications, finance, human resources and procurement. There are even opportunities to travel the world and manage recreation programs on ships. MWR offers everything under the sun for young park and recreation professionals to get their feet wet, learn their passions and talents, and become the well-rounded professional they need to be in order to be successful in work and in life. My story is a perfect example of how MWR can influence, enhance and prepare you for a successful career.
My MWR Experience
I first learned of Morale, Welfare and Recreation from a professor while an undergraduate at East Tennessee State University. He was a believer in the effect these programs can have on our careers and set up many students with internships throughout the world. Some of my classmates supervised programs in Japan, one was trained as a whitewater guide in Colorado; the list of unique experiences keeps going. These internships are professional, invaluable and give students opportunities to lead programs and staff, and participate in the overall management of a department.
After completing an internship program in Charleston, South Carolina, I accepted an MWR position with the Navy supervising interns who led trips and tours, and coordinated campus recreation activities for young student sailors. I left for graduate school in Wisconsin the next year with valuable experience from my first job out of college supervising staff; organizing sports leagues and other recreation tournaments, special events, trips and tours; collaborating with other departments and spearheading committees; performing maintenance tasks; setting standards; applying for grants; and learning new skills in time management, delegation and staff training, as well as participating in many continuous learning opportunities and trainings. The ability to apply this experience to what I was learning in graduate school helped tremendously, and I quickly gained confidence I didn’t know I had at the time.
After completing my courses, I was offered a promotional position within MWR, this time with a large Army installation in Maryland, overseeing outdoor recreation facilities, parks and programs. Also during this time, I was given the opportunity to obtain several certifications, including my CPRP, and I can confidently say that because of my MWR experience, there were no areas of the exam that I hadn’t previously been exposed to.
I have been fortunate to work with two great municipal programs over the last eight years, and I used my MWR background every day. Every time a new project began, I was able to contribute because of my background, even if it wasn’t part of my everyday responsibilities. These were some of the most rewarding times of my career so far. Assisting in and advancing the organization’s bigger picture is not only a tremendous asset to the organization, but is also indicative that as a young professional, you possesses the necessary skill sets and experience to help the agency develop and reach new heights. I now work with the Navy again for MWR Kings Bay, a CAPRA-accredited agency and NRPA Gold Medal winner, managing a small park, resort and marina on the shores of Lake Allatoona, just north of Atlanta, Georgia. I tell everyone that I have the best job on the planet, and I mean it. This position brings together everything I enjoy about parks, recreation and hospitality, and it is as unique an opportunity as one can have.
As an MWR employee, you become part of a worldwide network of programs and opportunities. It isn’t uncommon for people to transfer from one program area or installation to another and advance quickly while staying with the same company. Salaries are competitive and ongoing professional development is a priority. Since rejoining MWR, I have gained a wealth of knowledge in managing budgets, staff, project development and management. The needs on a military installation are the same as in the communities. Installations serve tens of thousands of families, soldiers and civilian employees and, oftentimes, partner with neighboring communities when possible for programming and special events. Collaboration and networking is a large component of military recreation. Upward mobility is very possible within MWR and experience easily transitions to any other area of the profession.
If you are looking for opportunity that can offer you growth in experience and knowledge, recognition, an opportunity to do something unique and rewarding, a way to serve those who serve you, and an opportunity to travel and possibly see the world, then MWR is the right choice for you.
Michael D. Huffstetler, CPRE, is the Navy Lake Site Manager at MWR SUBASE, Kings Bay.