Feature Article - April 2011
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Marching Ahead

The Connection Between Recreation & Quality of Life

By Rick Dandes

Wounded Warriors

Injured military personnel returning from Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 now number more than 65,000, according to statistics provided by the Wounded Warriors Project, a nonprofit organization based in Jacksonville, Fla. During previous wars, these men and women might have been discharged or retired. Current military policies, however, permit wounded warriors to remain on active duty.

So, are recreation programs being adapted to account for this large number of wounded warriors as they return home?

"Absolutely," insisted Tammy Smith, coordinator of Outreach/ Project Director for Inclusive Recreation for Wounded Warrior training, Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management, Penn State University, in State College, Pa.

But, there is a long way to go, she added.

Many military installation buildings were constructed in the early 1940s, well before legislation like the Rehab Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"In previous conflicts," Smith explained, "our wounded service members returned home and were supported by the Veterans Administration after discharge from service."

Today, approximately 65 percent of ill and injured are returning to active-duty status due to advances in "on the field" medical treatment, and medical technology and procedures, she noted. "As a result, military installations have been faced with the unprecedented need to provide wounded warriors programmatic access to their Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) and Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS)—the Marine Corps' recreation program.

"Unfortunately," Smith said, "most MWR/MCCS service providers have not had formal training in provision of recreation service to wounded warriors and how to integrate those personnel into their existing programs and services."

Many installations have Wounded Warrior Battalions (WWBs) and Wounded Transition Units (WTUs) that are geared specifically toward evaluating, rehabilitating and preparing wounded warriors for returning to active duty.

"There are also external recreation service providers that specialize in programs for individuals with disabilities," Smith said, noting Disabled Sports USA, which offer services to the wounded veterans.

"What we hope to do with our training efforts at Penn State is to train MWR/MCCS personnel on how to integrate and actively involve active-duty wounded warriors into existing recreation programs and services."

Separate, yet equal, programming in WWBs and WTUs has its place, she said, but does not necessarily provide service members with the breadth of recreation services and opportunities available.

"In my opinion," Smith said, "there should be more communication between MWR and the WWBs and WTUs to help wounded military personnel transition into base or post community life."