Time to Walk the Walk ...
If satisfaction with Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs and facilities increases, readiness increases. That is one of the key findings of the recently released Department of Defense (DoD) MWR Satisfaction Survey — consistent with findings from the 2009 survey.
Another key fnding: “Top priority” areas for improvement across all four services are fitness centers and outdoor recreation.
The picture cannot be any clearer: Improvements in fitness and recreation programs and facilities translate into improvements in readiness for service members and their families.
For policy makers deciding on funding during these austere budgeting times, these findings are a blueprint for the future of MWR, which we have long known — even before these surveys — to be an integral part of the readiness equation.
“I am very pleased to report that more than 17,000 randomly selected service members from the active duty, National Guard and Reserve participated in the survey, providing us with valuable information for how we can better align and fund MWR programs in the future,” said Robert L. Gordon III, deputy assistant secretary of Defense (Military Community and Family Policy).
Although it would seem that leadership is hearing what service members are saying, MWR satisfaction remains unchanged from 2009 — stuck at a disappointing score of 69 out of 100 possible points, according to the key findings of this current survey.
Gordon points out, “MWR programs are linked to mission readiness,” but the key now for DoD is finding a way to increase funding for MWR programs and facilities, especially in the top priority areas — fitness centers and outdoor recreation.
As the low satisfaction score indicates, there is a long way to go before claiming any victories on the MWR front. These results are a second wake-up call that demands that support and funding for these programs and facilities remains a priority, even during challenging fiscal times.
News of more Army installations charging for group exercise programs and classes that in the past were free is a disturbing trend, one that will not help boost that satisfaction score or mission readiness. Many Army MWR and fitness directors have been faced with the difficult decision of charging for classes or cutting the number of classes offered or both, which is having a negative impact on participation.
A number of Army installations have already begun to charge for previously free classes, and the unintended consequences have been staggering. Classes that were once full with 30-35 people are now only getting a handful of participants. And although these installations are only charging a fraction of what one would pay outside the gate for these classes, people, for the most part, just can't or won't pay for something that they believe should remain as a core support function. And they are not wrong.
As Gordon astutely points out, survey findings provide “valuable information” for how DoD can “better align and fund MWR programs in the future.”
Leadership is obviously getting the message, but as the saying goes, “If you're going to talk the talk, you've got to walk the walk,” which means making a concerted effort to raise the bar for fitness and recreation. The dividends from these investments will be seen in a more fit and ready force, and increased MWR satisfaction and readiness scores down the road.