Return to Recreate ...
The concept of Return to Recreate, which emphasizes the vital need to provide more recreational activities to service members who have recently returned home from combat, reverberates through this issue.
Born from the collective minds of Armed Forces recreation professionals and Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) personnel during an annual Armed Forces Recreation Network Professional Training Institute (PTI) conference, Return to Recreate is the seed from which have sprouted many critically important programs throughout the Department of Defense (DoD) over the past few years.
Programs such as the Army's Warrior Adventure Quest and the new Marine Corps Operation Adrenaline Rush were founded on the basic principles of Return to Recreate, and they provide service members returning home from deployment with the opportunity to recreate together in a safe environment — with the right equipment, guidance and training.
Nancy Dussault, Outdoor Recreation program specialist, Marine Corps Headquarters, Semper Fit and Exchange Services Division, says that by introducing structured recreational activities with an “adrenaline rush,” Marines learn valuable coping skills to manage combat experiences.
“By mitigating this stress we hope to decrease the likelihood of an off-duty mishap,” she says. “This program provides a mechanism to aid in both the individual and unit's re-integration from a deployed environment to a garrison. This program also introduces Marines to outdoor recreation activities that they can participate in with their families and friends during their off-duty time.”
With so many coming home injured, DoD has upped its efforts to provide inclusive recreation opportunities for wounded warriors. The department's partnership with Penn State University in 2008 to create a comprehensive four-day training course, Inclusive Recreation for Wounded Warriors, has already given approximately 450 Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) professionals from each service within the U.S. and abroad the knowledge and tools to provide recreation, sports and fitness opportunities to service members of all abilities.
Penn State also recently partnered with the Marine Corps to create a program called “Including Customers with Disabilities in Recreation Programs and Services: Unique Challenges ... Unique Solutions,” a two-day version of the four-day course that is customized to meet the needs of each Marine Corps base.
As MWR professionals begin to apply the knowledge they have learned, and provide inclusive opportunities, more and more wounded warriors are healing through recreation and sports and achieving amazing things that they never thought were possible when they were first injured.
Just look at the amazing achievements of the hundreds of injured service members who have tried out for and participated in the Warrior Games, an event now in its third year. They show through their courage what it truly means to be an American.
Or the story of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, which has won over the hearts of America recently — all of the players are soldiers or Marines who lost limbs while deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. The softball team, the first to be assembled completely with wounded warriors playing on prosthetics or with missing body parts, has already had great success playing against able-bodied teams.
These stories of service members returning from combat and finding healing through recreation and sports — though just a small sampling of the incredible triumphs that are being realized right now because of the strong support of the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs and the commitment of their dedicated MWR professionals — are ample proof that the human spirit is indomitable.