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On-Campus Hospitality

The Disconnect Widens ...


Even with all of the progress made in the area of quality of life, specifically Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) facilities and programs, one obstacle that continues to threaten the future of these essential programs is the disconnect between politicians in Washington and the importance of MWR to service members and their families.

During March Senate and House hearings on the Department of Defense (DoD) fiscal year 2012 budget, the Washington Post picked up on an interesting and illuminating exchange between

Sen Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who chairs the Senate Armed Services military construction subcommittee, and Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, assistant secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment.

In reference to what she believed to be a high-priced $50 million fitness center project at NB Coronado, Calif., McCaskill noted, "Certainly I want our men and women to have the best ... but this is the most beautiful place in the world and certainly the outdoors lends itself for exercise almost every day there."

Pfannenstiel agreed about the beauty of the locale but smartly pointed out, "The reason that facility is at the price that it is, is that it will have something like 80,000 patrons." She also astutely noted that the San Diego area is a major hub for the Marine Corps and the Navy, and the facility "will be the central facility for that area."

Even in these fiscally tight times, the shortsightedness of McCaskill's concern points to a continued disconnect between those who decide on these budgets and the importance of these facilities like the one set for NB Coronado to those who serve this nation. Just looking at physical preparedness, military fitness centers provide the latest fitness equipment to help these warriors prepare for combat, the education and resources to stay physically and mentally sharp, and facilities to help families work out, get a fitness assessment or take a class tailored to the needs of children and spouses.

As DoD and MWR professionals continue their efforts to quantify the importance of MWR facilities like the one questioned by the senator from Missouri, the relationship between these programs and readiness is becoming clearer every day. But the question remains: Are we doing as much as we can to enlighten Capitol Hill about what quality-of-life programs truly are, about the real people behind the numbers.

When McCaskill suggests that servicemembers can just go outside to get the required exercise, she says this not knowing how much they already do take advantage of the great outdoors for training. The brick-and-mortar facilities, such as the fitness center, and the outdoor facilities, such as the outdoor playing and training surfaces, complement each other in providing the essential training and preparation that is needed during these times of high conflict.

At NB San Diego, Calif., for example, the base has upgraded many playing fields to meet a seemingly endless need for quality outdoor training and playing space.

“These fields are not just sport specific,” explains Jim Sitar, contracting officer, Navy Region Southwest, MWR. “These projects provide needed space for PT for our sailors and space for military use.”

“It all ties into mission readiness,” adds Ron Vogel, Fleet and Family Readiness director, NB San Diego, Calif. “When people think of multipurpose fields, a lot of times you get the vision of high school or college, but in the military environment it is completely different because we have hundreds and thousands of people out on our fields daily and not just during sports seasons or during practices. We have the general military population using the fields, day-in and day-out, 365 days a year.”

Vogel points out that the base has 400,000 who use the fields annually, and with the intramurals programs growing and expanding, the base is trying to add another multipurpose field to meet the demand. He adds that prior to getting their first multipurpose field, there wasn't enough space for service members to perform their physical training (PT), and they were often very cramped and on old fields. “The driving force behind all of these projects was to improve the quality of life for the sailors.”

We need to continue to put a face on these MWR facilities. Otherwise, they will continue to be questioned by our budget makers in Washington as numbers that we can do without.