Feature Article - October 2020
Find a printable version here

A March Toward Fun, Family & Fitness

Trends in Military Recreation

By Chris Gelbach

Time for a Quest

At Fort Riley, Enoch is also seeing strong ongoing interest in Warrior Adventure Quest, a program sponsored by the Department of Defense. "It provides team-building, high-adrenaline activities that are geared for the soldier who has recently redeployed with the intent of lessening negative incidents soldiers engage in in those 30 to 90 days after they return from the deployment," Enoch said.

Typical activities for the program include things like paintball, ropes courses, climbing, skeet shooting, skiing, snowboarding and zip-lining, but Enoch is also seeing it move into more unique and fun-based options. "Warrior Adventure Quest used to be really strictly focused on things like whitewater rafting and paintball, which are still really popular," Enoch said. "Now you have it expanding into escape rooms, archery tag, bubble soccer and other unique activities just to expand the menu and give them more options to choose from."

Because the soldiers do the activities with those they were deployed with, they help provide the action and camaraderie that service members often miss in the weeks following the deployment.

According to Gould, the Navy is seeing similarly high interest in its related program, Sailor Adventure Quest, though the program and its approach are somewhat different and tailored to the specific stresses that Navy service members are dealing with.

"Our sailors, when they come off ship, it's not the same type of stress that maybe an Army person would deal with coming back from Afghanistan," Gould said. It may not be as much of a stress related to a sense of imminent danger, but instead the stress of working long hours, being cooped up in tight spaces with the same people constantly, and not seeing family for months.

"What we find with a lot of the sailors, when they want to come to do something with MWR, is that they actually don't want to be with their unit," Gould said. "They want to go out and be able to have the skills to go out to do activities where it is self-directed recreation."

With Sailor Adventure Quest, "the motto is to make them a comfortable beginner by the time they leave us for the day," Gould said. An introduction to golf might consist of a 30-minute lesson, an introduction to the culture of the activity and then maybe three holes of golf. "It's a short activity that is completely about just fun and it's not intimidating, it's not beyond their skill level, and we get them hooked on that particular activity," Gould said.

In the end, this approach introduces young sailors to recreational activities they have never before tried, whether it be active pursuits such as golf, kayaking, surfing, fishing, paddle boarding and scuba diving or even skills like guitar playing, cooking or photography. "But the key with this 21st century sailor is to end on fun," Gould said. "I can't stress that enough."

The Army is likewise trying to teach new skills and provide fun opportunities to single soldiers through its BOSS (Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers) program. "We're trying to get these guys so they're not cooped up in the barracks, which is basically like a college dorm, and provide them with resources and skills to improve their quality of life," Glenn said. These activities can include everything from volunteering with Habitat for Humanity or food kitchens, to fun activities like horseback riding or ATV rides, fishing trips, or even lessons on how to cook with a hot plate and a microwave.

Facilities Get Flexible

Gould has also seen a shift toward more flexible spaces and toward consolidation of recreational activities into a single hub for efficiency. This includes a trend toward multifunction sports courts. "For instance, if I'm going to redo a basketball court, I might do a corrugated flooring that I can flip on one side for volleyball, I could have basketball or I could do pickleball," Gould said, noting also that the pickleball trend is even taking off now among young service members.

The co-location of recreational facilities into a single hub where people can visit the library, purchase tickets and attend classes instead of going to several locations introduces numerous efficiencies. "We may run that with only a staff of five or six, versus having eight facilities that are spread out and a different person at each facility," Gould said. By co-locating facilities with one customer-facing desk, it streamlines operations and makes things easier for customers, while allowing more of the recreation budget to go toward programming, supplies and equipment.

Enoch is likewise seeing an emphasis at the facility level on flexibility. "We definitely see a move toward multiuse facilities where stuff is modular, shifted around and almost like a chameleon where you can make a facility several different things depending on what you need to do," Enoch said.

This emphasis on flexibility also extends to adding amenities to existing facilities. As golf and bowling have trended downward among young soldiers, Fort Riley converted a site that had previously been a golf course into an outdoor adventure park with recreational opportunities for everyone from soldiers to small children. Fort Riley took out half the bowling lanes at its bowling center to create a family entertainment center with glow mini golf, a climbing wall, golf simulators, batting cages, billiards, darts, karaoke and more.