Feature Article - March 2008
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Working With Warriors

Military Fitness and Recreation: Serving Those Who Serve

By Richard Zowie

Family Support

Most military recreation centers also offer programs geared toward youth and families.

At the Warhawk Fitness Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, for example, there is now a room where children can play while their parents or guardians exercise, said Jerry Stanfill, 37th Services Division chief at Lackland. "The room opened in June 2007 and has been used more than 1,100 times."

But beyond these simple rooms, there are also youth centers that help support military family life.

"Youth Centers are a huge part of military life—not just for the kids, but for family programming as well," Stanfill explained. "In addition to the open recreational side of the house, a school-age program provides parents with before- and after-school care, as well as all daycare during the summer and school holidays. They offer all of the same amenities—board games, cards, video games, pool tables, foosball tables, ping-pong, air hockey, computers, as well as fine arts, dramatic arts, photography, sewing, crafts and many other recreational opportunities, including educational and recreational field trips."

Stress Relief

Stanfill said that recreational activities and fitness activities play a key role in the success of military personnel as they perform their duties.

"We understand the stress of deployments, regular moves to new assignments and the general stress of being part of the national defense program," he said. "We offer patrons the stability and confidence that they will be physically fit, mentally rejuvenated and their families cared for whether the active-duty member is on-site or deployed. These services are critical to the Air Force's success, whether the mission is at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota or Ramstein Air Base in Germany, or a deployed site in Southwest Asia."

Stanfill added that the success and efficiency of today's Air Force depends on the physical well-being of its members so that they can be prepared for any assignment that needs to be filled.

"The Air Force has embraced a doctrinal concept, the Air and Space Expeditionary Force (AEF), that calls for units to deploy within a very short timeframe to support joint or combined operations," he said. "Underpinning this concept is Agile Combat Support (ACS). Deploying units will depend on ACS to move the aircraft, logistical equipment, supplies and personnel to meet taskings and conduct operations. For the Air Force to be effective in the fluid AEF environment, service members need to be well trained in their particular specialty, and they also must be physically fit."

Recreation and fitness centers vary depending on whether stateside or in a remote location, Shanaghan said, adding, "Remote locations require compact, transportable and potentially temporary equipment, such as the Navy's theater-in-a-box set (portable movies system), portable basketball courts and moveable fitness equipment. Computer access is a primary concern for family connectivity, whether provided by local Wi-Fi or hardwired computers. Video gaming is prevalent today and easily set up if power is sufficient. Satellite brings in regular programming for TVs."

Emanuel said that in the many years he's spent working in recreational centers, he's observed heavy use in deployed areas, and the Middle East is no exception. "[The rec center] essentially becomes everything," he said. "The ones in Iraq are hubs of activity, and they're critical for combat stress."

Combating stress is something that all services understand is important to the well-being of a service member. Stressed-out service members are ones who will have more challenges performing what often can be very dangerous or demanding jobs. Whatever leisure time they get, Stanfill said, must be taken advantage of.

"Leisure time is often in short supply in a deployed environment, so it's important to offer activities that allow troops to unwind and get their minds off of work, relax and rewind for long shifts," Stanfill explained. "Self-directed and participatory recreational activities help troops maintain their physical and mental well-being and promote esprit de corps. Bazaars with local vendors, movie theaters and rentals, game rooms, pool and card tournaments, live bands and comedians—these activities and much more are offered during sustained operations at our deployed locations. We also offer ways for the airmen to communicate back home with families. Morale calls, and now computers with camera capabilities offer airmen the opportunity to speak and see their families."