And as armed forces recreation professionals prepare for the 46th Annual National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) Congress and Expo, Nov. 1-3, in Atlanta, Ga., and the Armed Forces Recreation Network (AFRN) Professional Training Institute (PTI) on Oct. 31, this training opportunity takes on more significance, allowing these defenders of quality of life to recharge their batteries, get new ideas for programs, facilities and equipment, and to connect, share ideas and brainstorm with their peers to identify best practices.
AFRN Incoming Chair Amy Cimino-Schockley, MWR Program Manager, Commander Navy Region Southeast (CNRSE), points out that the passion shown by these defenders of quality of life knows no bounds.
“By nature of the profession, recreation professionals like to work with and take care of people, so during challenging times they tend to react very positively,” she explains. “In the last year, one of our MWR Directors left his job in the U.S. and took a position at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti, in Africa. He is the MWR Director for the installation, working long hours and living in an 8-foot-by-8-foot CLU (containerized living unit). He is one example of MWR professionals who want to make a difference.”
Back home, MWR personnel are making a difference as well, finding ways to make programming and facilities more inclusive for all, such as a wheelchair-accessible playground or pontoon boat — like the one recently unveiled by the MWR department at NAS Jacksonville, Fla. When MWR's Marina and Auto Skills Center Manager Phil Collins saw a customer in a wheelchair experiencing challenges using the standard pontoon boat available for rent at the marina, he immediately set out to identify the tasks and modifications that would need to be made to improve the customer experience for Wounded Warriors, disabled veterans and others with physical disabilities. He also pursued special funding through a CNRSE MWR grant program to bring his ideas to life.
The newly refurbished, all-inclusive pontoon boat, named Lt. Dan — after the character in the movie Forrest Gump who was able to overcome his physical limitations — is now fully accessible by wheelchair, providing an opportunity for those of any ability to get out on the water, go fishing and spend some quality time with family and friends.
Keeping morale high is also a challenge for those working outside the gate. Similar to AFRN, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Recreation Association provides agents and their families with access to recreational opportunities that make a difference. FBI Recreation Association Executive Director Dennis Amaral points out that in his 17 years working for the association the need for these quality-of-life programs is even more critical during tough times.
“In my time and experience here, the time that I see as the most significant for the association — where the association was the most needed — was immediately after 9/11,” says Amaral. “We provide them with opportunities to take a break from the emotional, high-stress environment, much like the military overseas with the war, where intense mission-critical things are going on. During these stressful times, they need to take their mind away from that for awhile. Whether it is driving an hour to go skiing or helping them put together a discount on a trip, they need to step away at certain points and focus on their family.
“Stories such as these — of MWR coming to the rescue — show what these professionals can do, and they are just a small sampling of the power of recreation to heal. That is why it is so essential during this uncertain period to continue to fund these programs at the highest levels possible.