Feature Article - October 2020
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A March Toward Fun, Family & Fitness

Trends in Military Recreation

By Chris Gelbach


COVID Considerations

While different installations have worked with local governments and conditions to determine how to reopen coming out of lockdown, COVID-19 is in some cases creating trends that may persist long after the pandemic's end.

At USAG West Point, the installation quickly transitioned to an online checkout system for rental equipment. Once areas like the outdoor swimming area at Long Pond opened, ticket sales also went online with a strict 60-person limit at each of two three-hour sessions.

According to Remillard, this system ensures that customers won't show up and be disappointed when they're unable to get in, while also increasing safety for staff. "It was to reduce those friction points between our staff and our patrons, and also to reduce the lines because of COVID," Remillard said. "And the nice thing about our online system is, if you're out there, you can literally pull up your phone and if there are tickets available, you can buy one right there on the phone."

Remillard has also seen increased interest in outdoor fitness classes like paddleboard yoga, and in more traditional activities that people can do at home or in small groups, from increased library usage to spikes in fishing, kayaking and canoeing.

He also expects certain practices to remain on an ongoing basis, such as a move from soap and water to clean equipment to use of a 10-minute virus-killing sanitizer. Other adaptations, like leaving a day in between cabin rentals, or shifting outdoor summer movies to a drive-in format may not remain. And his team is figuring out best practices for the upcoming season now.

"We operate one of three ski areas in the Army," Remillard said. "We are looking very heavily at what's happening across the globe at places like Australia, Chile, Argentina. How are they dealing with COVID-related responses to skiing? We've got between now and mid-December to get a plan together on how we're going to be safe to teach people skiing because on average, we do about 500 lessons a year."

At Fort Carson, Glenn has also seen value in growing communications through social media posts and in delivering programs via live feeds or pre-taped materials. Some of these options may remain for certain programs after the pandemic ebbs because they are reaching more people.

"Versus having a class held at the outdoor recreation center where we have a max capacity of 40 people, we're doing this live feed on Wednesday and we're getting 500 to 800 views, which for our community is fantastic," Glenn said. Fort Carson has likewise seen almost triple the participants in its virtual story times that are offered both by live feed and videotape.

And both Army and Navy installations have worked amid the pandemic to increase library digital resources. Right now, Gould is managing a joint-service initiative that will consolidate library services into one centralized system for the Department of Defense that will transform the library program into more of a community recreation hub. "The library is where we see classes happening, skill building, and it all tying into either paperback resources or hard-copy resources but more importantly, digital resources," Gould said.

Fitness Goes Functional

Meanwhile, the trend of functional fitness has accelerated even more rapidly in the military, spurred in part by the adoption of the new Army Combat Fitness Test. The new test debuting October 2020 includes a three-rep deadlift, a medicine ball throw, a new push-up variation, a sprint-drag-carry featuring a sled and kettlebells, a leg tuck on a pull-up bar, and a two-mile run.

"We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on functional fitness equipment that is designed to prepare the soldier for the rigors of actual combat and deployment work," Enoch said. "Our gyms have completely transformed over the last five years."

Since COVID, military recreation pros are also seeing a shift in how soldiers use these facilities. "Even though we still have our cardio equipment out, when people are coming in, they're using the selectorized equipment or the free weights," Remillard said. "For cardio, they're running or going for a walk outside, or finding different types of activity to do [outside] like paddle boarding, kayaking or biking."

At Fort Knox, Higgs noted that they've conducted some fitness classes outside in response to the pandemic. But unpredictable weather has caused them to move some classes back inside, where the base's facility enables classes with significant social distancing of 8 to 10 feet between participants. "You hate to schedule something and have to cancel it, so we lean more toward the inside," Higgs said. "We have this large building that we can easily accommodate 15 to 20 people for a fitness class and space them safely apart."

Community Partnerships for Mutual Benefit

Military recreation experts believe there's extensive benefits both for installations and for the local communities surrounding them in partnering whenever possible—but it isn't necessarily a quick or easy process.

"It's going to take time," Remillard said. "Nothing is ever quick with us. Because we have to go through all the legal hurdles and that kind of stuff. But once you're able to get those agreements, they're great."

Glenn noted that Fort Carson has intergovernmental support agreements with local municipalities aimed at reducing costs and providing more program opportunities to soldiers and community members. "Our public works department has worked out a great deal with the city of Colorado Springs for some leveraging power," Glenn said. "I try to do the same with the cities of Fountain and Colorado Springs for either trail network development or playground upkeep, maintenance and replacement. If we can partner on joint-use contracts and get the best bang for the buck, that just improves the quality of life and resources for the whole community."

Enoch noted that Fort Riley is likewise trying to develop an intergovernmental service agreement with the city of Manhattan, Kan., and with Kansas State University for the use of Fort Riley's pool, which will be the only Olympic-sized indoor pool in the area once the university's aging facility closes. "It's difficult for me to offer that to our community partners without a written agreement," Enoch said. "So what we're working toward is a recourse-sharing cooperative where I let you use my pool—what do you have that I don't that I can use?"

While partnering with the military may take time, it's something that the military is very open to and that can present tremendous opportunities for local communities. "Our installation management command has, at the highest level of the headquarters levels, said these agreements are good. It makes our services more efficient. It provides cost savings," Enoch said. "If you're in a community and you're near an Army installation, then you should be encouraged to go knock on doors and say, 'Hey, let's explore where we can share some resources.'" RM