Change is Constant ...
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
That's an expression that is especially true in the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) community, as in the face of constant change, funding in each of the services remains a constant challenge to maintain the critical quality-of-life programs that servicemembers and their families need each and every day.
It seems that each year that members of the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hear testimony on the current status of MWR programs, the topic of funding is raised.
In February, it was Congressman Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), chairman of the subcommittee, who discussed the annual congressional oversight of how MWR programs should be sustained as the Department of Defense (DoD) analyzes all programs in order to pursue a more cost-efficient budget.
Wilson echoed the sentiments of the MWR chiefs gathered in the Rayburn House Office Building that February afternoon when he stated emphatically, “We must not allow MWR programs to become easy targets for the budget cutters.”
This new era of “budget austerity” — as Wilson called it — that DoD is undertaking poses a direct challenge to all services to assess their programs, be fiscally conscious and justify why funding for quality-of-life programs is essential, year in and year out, for the benefit of military families.
Compounding the fiscal challenges that MWR chiefs are facing is the constant change in the military climate. The drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq continues as U.S. troops increase their presence in Afghanistan.
U.S. forces continue to supply relief aid to the victims of the March 11th Japanese tsunami and earthquake, while at the same time, families of U.S. troops stationed in Japan are returning to the States as a precaution following the threat of radioactive exposure from damaged nuclear power plants. This flurry of U.S. military activity, especially over the past month, means that more funding is needed to support troops and their families.
We have seen an increase in military family support directly from the White House. In January, President Obama unveiled a government-wide plan to strengthen military family support with new programs and cooperative efforts designed to improve the quality of life and well being for military families.
Last month, first lady Michelle Obama announced a yearlong campaign to promote the plan and draw more attention to the needs of military families.
This support of military families, from the White House to MWR and every agency, command and base in between, must continue as the military landscape continues to evolve. The funding needed for those troops at home and in deployed areas, as well as their families, cannot be diminished in any way.
We know that there are funding challenges that the services face when it comes to providing the MWR facilities needed for military families— troop movements as outlined in BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure), downrange/deployment commitments and joint basing, just to name a few. This is what the military is all about — adapting to constant change.
In MWR, funding for activities in Categories A, B and (on a limited scale) C is critical to the families who utilize these programs and services to “get away” — even for a few hours — from the daily stress of military life.
Robert L. Gordon, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Military Community and Family Policy, outlined the commitment that DoD is making to MWR programs when he testified before the subcommittee: “The continued vitality of MWR programs depends on sound management, meeting command and customer needs, a predictable stream of nonappropriated revenue and solid appropriated-fund support of Category A and B activities.”
It's a lot to depend on, but that vitality must be maintained.