Feature Article - March 2016
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Military Recreation & Readiness

Innovation, Efficiency and Enhanced Community Engagement

Programs for Wounded Warriors

MWR professionals are also increasingly focused on providing inclusive recreation opportunities for wounded veterans. Gould noted that Navy MWR sends all of its recreators for a five-day course at Penn State University called the Inclusive Recreation for Wounded Warriors program so that each installation is better prepared to offer these opportunities.

The Navy also has a separate Wounded Warrior Program - Safe Harbor program that coordinates the nonmedical care of seriously wounded, ill and injured sailors and coast guardsmen, using MWR facilities. Similar programs exist for the Air Force and Army.

Likewise, the Marines facilitate the medical and non-medical care of their wounded, ill and injured Marines through the U.S. Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment. Part of this organization, the Warrior Athlete Reconditioning Program (WAR-P), promotes the health and rehabilitation of marines recovering from physical and mental health challenges through adaptive recreation and reconditioning.

To reach veterans more successfully with recreational programming, experts agree that providing opportunities that allow veterans to get together can significantly add to the appeal.

In this program, the recreational offerings being offered have been changing over the past few years to accommodate the changing profile of marines entering the program. "There's been a very marked transition from marines who were dealing with IED blast-induced injuries to marines who might not have physical, visible scars but have PTSD or traumatic brain injuries," said First Lieutenant Andrew Bolla, public affairs officer for the Wounded Warrior Regiment. "Because we are transitioning from wartime to peacetime, our patient population is not only decreasing, but the nature of their injuries and illnesses is changing."

Rachel Barbieto, program manager for WAR-P, is seeing a shift in interest in different recreational programs that is primarily driven by this change. As a result, the programming has started to shift to less of an emphasis on wheelchair and seated activities to more mobile programs that include golfing, rowing, scuba, water sports and winter sports.

Because of these activities, the WAR-P and similar programs can be a great place to contact when creating adaptive or other sports or recreational programs that might be of interest, since they're happy to share those opportunities with their active duty soldiers and veterans. "We can push it out and appreciate those opportunities," Barbieto said.

In terms of programming for this audience, some top sports include those that are featured in the Department of Defense Warrior Games. In this sporting competition, athletes representing teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and U.S. Special Operations Command compete. The eight sports in the 2016 games will be archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field, and wheelchair basketball.

Engaging the Veteran Audience

To reach veterans more successfully with recreational programming, these experts agree that providing opportunities that allow veterans to get together can significantly add to the appeal. "It's really just bringing people together that want to be together and giving them the opportunity to usually make fun of one another," Bolla said. "But in the grand scheme of things, they're bonding."

Sometimes, hiring a veteran can be one way to show that your programs are relevant to them. Dozier recommends this when looking at hiring for things like fitness programs. "You shouldn't be asking, 'How do I get a soldier into my boot camp program?'" Dozier said. "Your business model should be, how do I hire a soldier so that it enhances the boot camp facility that I have so that soldiers transitioning into the population can take advantage of that opportunity, and it also enhances what I'm offering to the community at large."

Since the military also attracts active, fitness-focused individuals who sometimes develop a love of the outdoors through MWR programming, Gould also has seen many veterans go into recreation management themselves. "Many of our veterans who depart from the military or retire come to work for MWR as recreators later on," Gould said. "Or they get a rec degree when they get out and they start working in a local community in recreation. It works both ways."

Because veterans often enjoy interacting with each other, recreation departments can often make headway with this audience by considering the interests of veterans in their area as a way to attract those first few participants. "And once you start bringing in onesies and twosies together, they know friends who tell a few friends, all of a sudden you have a close-knit group of people who are willing to support your programs," Bolla said.

In some cases, these opportunities for veterans to get together are going beyond recreational opportunities to include public service projects for parks, playgrounds and other environments, as well. One organization providing these and other opportunities to the veterans is The Mission Continues, which has service platoons made up of post-9/11 veterans and non-veteran members in more than 40 cities nationwide.

Aaron Scheinberg, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, is now executive director of the Northeast region for The Mission Continues. After his service, he went to grad school and got a good job in corporate America. "But I was really missing that connection to a deeper service and meaning and doing it in a team and being really active too," Scheinberg said. "And luckily The Mission Continues was founded on that principle that what veterans need most is a connection to a sense of purpose."

While each platoon selects its own area of focus based on needs of that community, Scheinberg estimates that about a quarter of them focus on projects related to parks, playgrounds or similar facilities. In those cases, he recommends that recreation managers reach out to the service platoon leader in your area.