Feature Article - April 2011
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Marching Ahead

The Connection Between Recreation & Quality of Life

By Rick Dandes

Family Values

"I commend the military for their initiatives that support children, partners and spouses during deployment," Smith, of Penn State University, said.

"The entire slew of Army family covenant programs are designed to help make life easier, because we've been at war for 10 years, and we know it has put a tremendous stress on families," Bradner, of MWR Command, added.

Operation Military Kids (OMK) is just one fast-growing initiative that began just for this purpose.

OMK is the U.S. Army's collaborative effort with America's communities to support children and youth affected by deployment. Whether or not families are experiencing deployment for the first time, the second time or another in a series of multiple deployments, the program's goal is to connect military children and youth with local resources in order to achieve a sense of community support and enhance their well-being.

In 2009, more than 150,000 youths participated in experiences conducted by OMK teams in 49 states and the District of Columbia; 945 community members representing over 43 national, state and local organizations worked together utilizing core OMK program elements to help school-age children and youths through the deployment of a loved one.

Through OMK, military youth, for example, meet other kids who are also experiencing deployment and participate in a range of recreational, social and educational programs. They also can attend single day, weekend or even longer residential camps

There are many other teen programs that the Army has expanded to provide supervised, safe, fun activities for teens in response to the fact that there are so many suddenly single mothers or single dads because one or the other parent is deployed, said Bradner. "All of those programs incorporate physical activities and recreational activities in order to promote a healthier lifestyle.

"Our family support," he noted, "goes so much beyond recreation, to daycare for spouses of deployed soldiers, so they can drop the kids off and have some time for them. In many cases that time is used for recreational purposes."

Most of these programs are available for National Guard and reservists as well, Bradner said. "The scary thing is, when a National Guardsman or reservist solider comes back from a deployment they have about a two-week debrief on a military installation and then they are sent back to their home. In those places where we don't have a large or strong enough reserve population, we are partnering with local gyms, local golf courses, recreation centers and asking them to provide those kinds of supports to our soldiers."

Other things the Army is doing include creating child care centers or child care rooms within gymnasiums and exercise and fitness centers, so that while one spouse is deployed, the remaining spouse can still take part in recreational activities and physical activities and have some place nearby where their children can be supervised while they do so.

"At an Army garrison near Vicenza, Italy," Bradner said, "they created a program called Stroller Fitness, which actually is a fitness regimen for moms, where they bring the kids in a stroller to the gym and they work out with the stroller and with the kids."

In short, the Army is making a concentrated effort to ensure that geographically dispersed soldiers have access to the same programs that soldiers do when they are on a homeland installation.