WASHINGTON — With furloughs now in full swing and many Defense Department civilian employees finding themselves with more time on their hands but less money in their pockets, morale, welfare and recreation officials are encouraging them to check out some of the programs offered right where they work.
Every military service provides fitness, recreational and educational services, often at no charge or for significantly less than one might pay just outside an installation’s gates, Ed Miles, DOD’s MWR policy director, told American Forces Press Service.
The underlying goal of the MWR program is to give military members and their families, as well as military retirees, a safe, affordable outlet to reduce stress and build physical, mental and emotional strength and resilience, Miles said.
“We have a direct impact on the readiness and retention and resilience of the troops,” he said. “Without a healthy and fit force, there could be national security implications.”
So whenever possible, the services extend their morale, welfare and recreational offerings to DOD civilian employees, whom they recognize as essential contributors to their missions, Miles said.
“Wherever we have capacity to accommodate them, we encourage civilians to use these programs,” he said. “That’s not only during sequestration. We welcome them all the time.”
It’s too soon to tell if the civilian workforce is taking greater advantage of MWR facilities and programs since sequestration kicked in, but Miles said he’s expecting an uptick.
“It wouldn’t surprise me to see usage go up — not just because the rates are lower, but because making use of these facilities is so convenient,” he said.
A common access card gives DOD civilian employees access to free or low-cost use of base fitness centers, swimming pools, libraries, movie theaters, bowling alleys, clubs, arts-and-craft centers, auto repair shops, golf courses, campgrounds, shooting ranges, beaches and marinas.
Depending on the location, DOD civilians also can rent camping, boating, snorkeling, skiing and other outdoor gear at their base outdoor recreation office. They can visit the installation tickets and tours office to buy discount tickets to civilian movie theaters, theme parks and travel and tour packages.
Some civilian employees may not realize they’re also qualified to rent the recreational campgrounds, cabins, cottages, trailers and trailer or recreational vehicle parks with hook-ups found on many military installations.
For the most part, a civilian or military identification card provides access to services and programs not just where the member works, but also at other installations, even those of another service, Miles said.
That extends to the crown jewels of the MWR program: Armed Forces Recreation Center resorts at popular vacation spots. All run by the Army but open to military and civilian employees from every service, these include Shades of Green on the grounds of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.; the Hale Koa in Honolulu; the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch, Germany; and the Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul, South Korea.
The Navy runs a similar resort-type facility, the New Sanno Hotel, in Tokyo. In addition, the Air Force has a partnership with Keystone Resort, Colo., to offer discounts at Rocky Mountain Blue, with a variety of lodging options and recreational discounts.
Like everything across the Defense Department, morale, welfare and recreation programs are getting close scrutiny as officials look for ways to cut costs. While officials strive to preserve the services offered, Miles acknowledged that in the future, costs could go up, hours could be reduced and programs not directly linked to military readiness could even fall by the wayside.
But in the meantime, he is encouraging civilian employees to make the most of the furlough situation by tapping the morale, welfare and recreation program.
“MWR is here for them,” he said. “There’s no better time than now to check out what’s available.”