Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Keeping Score

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Keeping Score

Article excerpt

DOCUMENTING THE BENEFITS OF ARMY RECREATION.

As park and recreation professionals, most of us know how important recreation is in our lives and in the lives of our constituents. We can also imagine, at least on some level, how valuable and important recreation must be to those individuals who have committed to serving in the military-where consequences of even the most seemingly unimportant daily activities are potentially more severe than most of us will ever face. It is ironic that in dire consequences, recreation seems a bit trivial when its value is most needed.

Consider the universal problem facing the recreation profession: recreation services are seen as a nice amenity or "frosting," rather than central to the effective functioning of a community. While it is widely understood that recreation can be entertaining, it is seldom understood, by the public in general, as capable of accomplishing more than fun.

Further, competition for funding is waged against other public services that are often perceived as more important, such as the police and social service agencies. Without diminishing the importance of these services, most recreation professionals would argue that our programs can also have an impact on issues addressed by these agencies. Unfortunately, historically we have not really "proven" our contribution.

Army Recreation, provided through Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) services, faces the same challenge: recreation is frequently viewed as a pleasant opportunity for soldiers and their families, but is not considered central to the Army's mission. This is especially true, perhaps, in a time of war, when competition for funding for recreation services seems to be pitted against funding for technical training and weapons. Army Recreation professionals understand that their contribution is more than entertainment: They help build better soldiers. However, similar to civilian recreation, Army Recreation has not had the ability to document its direct impact on potential soldiers.

The Benefits are Endless

Army Recreation tries to educate the public and improve their efforts by promoting the benefits of recreation and making it Army relevant, through a program called Benefits Army Recreation (BAR). In order to fulfill its mission of "deterring aggression through might and decidedly defending the United States when attacked," the Army must have well-trained, fit and ready troops.

This leads to operational objectives referred to as the three Rs: Recruitment, Readiness and Retention. Recruitment efforts seek to provide an appealing and rewarding lifestyle to potential soldiers; readiness is the preparation of soldiers to be consistently effective at their jobs; and retention involves maintaining the quality of life, or well-being, for soldiers and their families to foster continued service.

"BAR provides a clear method to measure the benefits of Army Recreation for soldiers and their families," says Van Stokes, chief of the Recreation Division at Ft. Campbell. "It is a system that provides hard data in a field that is considered soft in resources, when compared to other areas of the military. BAR can be used to validate the role of recreation in support of the Army's mission."

Army Recreation first began considering the implementation of a benefits program in early 2000 at the MWR Recreation Managers Training Course. Interest grew in the program and the decision was made to conduct brief trial runs and installations. Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, Ft. Jackson in South Carolina and Giessen in Germany were the bases selected for participation.

One of the most important outcomes of the initial pilots was the recognition that concepts like resiliency, a common goal for developmental programming, did not immediately translate into Army soldier culture and that, in order to document impacts that were important to the Army, military outcome measures were needed. …

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