Delivering a Little R&R
Aviano Air Base in Italy
By Dave Ramont
Aviano Air Base is a NATO base in northeastern Italy that hosts the United States Air Force's 31st Fighter Wing, which maintains aircraft and personnel in a high state of readiness. But most of us civilians don't consider what service members and their families do during down-time to relax and keep some sense of normalcy far from their homes. That's where people like William Gurr, director of Outdoor Recreation at Aviano, come in.
"Military life is very stressful, not only for the active-duty member but also the family members that endure multiple moves to different countries and states, long work days and deployments. We offer recreation tours and trips designed to improve health and reduce stress, enhancing resiliency," said Gurr, adding that family-oriented trips are especially important to help families re-connect after active-duty members return from deployments.
Gurr explained how Aviano Outdoor Recreation (ODR) supports mission readiness through expertly managed programs and facilities delivering family and individual well-being, unit cohesion and fitness. They maintain parks, recreation areas, sports fields, lodges, pavilions, a swimming pool, a golf course and a skatepark. They provide 112 special events a year, including trips and tours, holiday-themed celebrations and instruction classes. In summer there are family-friendly trips featuring whitewater rafting, hiking, canyoning, canoeing and kayaking. In winter there are skiing and snowboarding trips in Italy (with the Dolomite and Alps Mountain ranges nearby), Austria, Slovenia and Switzerland. There's deep-sea fishing and wine-tasting tours, plus horseback riding, paragliding, skydiving, spelunking, scuba diving, mountain biking, snowshoeing, bungee jumping, paintball, sledding, zip lining and off-road Segway adventures.
The base's biggest annual events are Fourth of July and Fall Fest, and ODR and other base agencies join forces to make them fun for all ages. They feature food booths, games and competitions, crafts, vendors and local cultural displays. There are car shows, a climbing wall, face painting and live music and dance entertainment. The last July Fourth had a "state fair" theme and was a three-day event culminating with a traditional fireworks show. Fall Fest includes a haunted house, pumpkin patch, costume contest, hay rides and a pet costume parade. Thanksgiving and Christmas are always big events on base as well, plus ODR offers overnight holiday trips to ski resorts, which are very popular.
Aviano has an outdoor pool operating from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and themed parties are thrown to celebrate the opening and closing with a cookout, water games and competitions. Typically, base pools use the Red Cross for their lifeguard certification, but Aviano uses the local Italian Agency "Societa Nazionale di Salvamento," with the aid of interpreters, which is similar to the Red Cross though some areas are more intensive. Gurr said it's great for local relations, as they love the opportunity to practice their English.
The pool is also used for swimming lessons, and diving lessons and certification. Pilots use the pool for their water certifications while Scouts use it for obtaining merit badges. Squadrons and other groups occasionally host private parties in the evenings, and there are "Dive-In Movie" nights for families.
ODR has more than 120 rental items available for service members and their families, squadrons and other groups. Rental categories include skis and snowboards, BBQ and camping, sports and recreation, water sports, inflatables, games, lawn and garden, party essentials and costumes, and special equipment, which could include anything from extension cords to luggage racks.
Many trips and events are subsidized through the Air Force's Recharge for Resiliency (R4R) initiative, which aims to lower costs for programs and events for service members and their families, and also to purchase additional equipment. For instance, some trips may cost just $20 for airmen who qualify.
The Aviano ODR staff consists of four full-time and three part-time employees, including one local national Italian who leads many of the trips. Other base agencies include Information Tickets and Travel (IT&T), which focuses on more "tourism" types of events. The
Community Center hosts various activities and classes, while Youth Programs focuses on summertime camps plus activities before and after school. There's also Youth Sports, Arts and Crafts, and the Base Collocated Club (Enlisted /Officer), which hosts entertainment shows plus base events (such as Aviano Idol) and military promotions and ceremonies.
Other events include a Resiliency Fair featuring "RUFit," a Comprehensive Airman Fitness Program. And there's a Winter Travel Fair and Summer Travel Fair with raffles, local vendors and attractions, restaurants and wineries, and Red Cross classes and training.
All military bases offer some sort of extra-curricular events, based on the local resources available. Gurr said that the creativity of the ODR staff is endless, and that they use their customers' feedback to continually modify their programs, adding that "It's a challenge, but very rewarding to see the smiles on kids and older customers, too."
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