Reaching Out ...
With sequestration now a reality, the focus for military leaders, and the defenders of quality of life who deliver essential Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs, is to protect a benefit that has taken decades to strengthen to acceptable levels, and to uphold a benefit that supports service members, veterans and their families, who have given their blood, sweat and tears to defend our freedoms.
Both Chuck Hagel, our 24th secretary of defense, and Charles E. Milam, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for Military Community and Family Policy, have come out recently promising continued support levels for service members and their families, because they understand how critically important these quality-of-life programs and facilities — in fitness, child care and recreation — are to overall readiness, to retention, to continuing to be able to recruit high-caliber service members and train and prepare them properly.
They understand how essential it is in times of fiscal uncertainty to assure the nation's “military family” that although cuts are being made, they will not be made at their expense.
Maintaining the “status quo” for MWR facilities and programs is a top priority, as they provide a lifeline to service members, veterans and their families, many times at the most critical and stressful times in their lives. Whether it is the fitness center, pool or child development center, these facilities are a sanctuary for military families, especially family members of those who are deployed, and provide necessary programs that not only help people stay healthy and happy, but also contribute to mission readiness and help wounded warriors and veterans heal during their greatest time of need.
Lisa Williams, supervisory recreation specialist and aquatics manager for the Hope and Care Center at MCB Camp Pendleton, Calif., points out that MWR facilities help to motivate wounded warriors and get them active and living life again.
“We are here to let them know that their life isn't over, that just because this injury has happened to them, there are still things that they can do, whether it is a new interest or activity or one that they loved to do in the past, before the injury,” she says. “So, getting them back involved in activities and society is very important for us here on base.”
Williams brings to light the important role MWR professionals play in the lives of service members, and how powerful the act of reaching out can be. For the Marines who make up Wounded Warrior Battalion - West, which relies on the Hope and Care Center pool and fitness center for their training and rehab needs, these simple acts are life-changing.
Army Maj. Lou Nemec, who is the national athlete director for a not-for-profit veterans support organization called Team Red, White & Blue (RWB), points out in an interview in this issue that continuing this support network for veterans is something that must be a priority, as more and more service members are returning home from Afghanistan. In fact, the Department of Defense has said that over the next year another 34,000 troops are coming home.
Nemec, who is stationed at West Point, N.Y., astutely points out that what many veterans are missing once they get home is the sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps that sustained them throughout their time in the military. Reaching out to these veterans in need can make all the difference in their overall quality of life, and many times helps them to choose the life that they deserve.
“I had one veteran who we linked up with a Team RWB group that does a weekly workout,” says Nemec. “I talked to him recently and he said, 'You know, before Team RWB, I was living in an apartment with no furniture, I was taking anti-depressants and thinking about killing myself every day. Now, I have friends, I am fit and I have a life.'”
This connection that Nemec speaks of — fostered though fitness and participating in other MWR programs — not only helps support service members and their families throughout their time in the military, but also helps them to maintain a high quality of life once they get out.
They deserve nothing less.