The Great Outdoors...
For a long time now we have known the benefits of outdoor recreation. Whether it is getting away for the day on a hiking or boating adventure, or taking a weekend trip to a national park or recreation area, exposure to nature is good for us. We all need some R&R from time to time, and studies continue to show that the more disconnected we are from nature — and more connected to the myriad electronic devices now available — the worse off we are, from increases in our waistlines to temporary decreases in IQ.
Led by the pioneering spirit of armed forces recreation professionals, the Department of Defense (DoD) has been a leader in the area of outdoor recreation. Programs like the Army's Warrior Adventure Quest (WAQ) and the Marine Corps' Operation Adrenaline Rush (OAR) are good examples of how high-adventure, high-adrenaline activities are helping service members to adapt once they return home from deployment. These, and other successful programs like them, such as the Navy Adventures Unleashed program created by the outdoor recreation team at NSB Kings Bay, Ga., a 2013 National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) Gold Medal finalist, provide tangible evidence of the link between recreation and mission readiness.
In addition to aiding in overall readiness and improving quality of life, the healing powers of nature are well documented. Recent research shows that veterans who participate in extended outdoor recreation show signs of improved mental health, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan (U-M) and the Sierra Club, a grassroots environmental organization that focuses on providing military members and their families with access to outdoor experiences.
“The findings suggest that extended group-based nature recreation can have significant positive impacts on veterans struggling with serious health problems,” says Jason Duvall, a research scientist at the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment, and one of the study's lead authors. Findings such as this support the link between outdoor recreation and well-being even further.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and DoD continue to tap into the power of recreation therapy to help veterans heal, and cope with often devastating injuries, and have identified it as an area that can be explored and expanded even further, most notably with so many service members and veterans who have been injured and are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression.
That is why it is disheartening to see training that has been essential to military recreation professionals has again been cancelled this year, especially in the wake of the president's recent executive order to focus more resources and energy on improving mental health for service members and veterans. The Armed Forces Recreation Network's (AFRN) Professional Training Institute (PTI), which until last year's travel restrictions kicked in, had been held in conjunction with the NRPA Congress and Expo, provided an annual forum for not only the networking and sharing of ideas, but the creation of game-changing programs, including WAQ and OAR, which were conceived during these key PTI meetings. No virtual conference can replicate the kind of brainstorming and innovative ideas that come from these essential face-to-face training events.
“Training is vitally important, and nothing beats training that is conducted in a setting where all of the participants are physically located together,” says AFRN Incoming President Matt Enoch, who is also community program coordinator at Fort Riley, Kan. “That's why promoting the benefits of training, and travel for training, is one of my top three priorities. I think the AFRN can be influential in getting military recreation leadership to restore funding for training and travel.”
As fiscal budgets continue to tighten, it is vitally important that we do not take for granted programs and training that contribute greatly to the future health and well-being of our service members, veterans and their families.