Army setting up MWR sites for deployed troops
by Victoria Palmer
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Service, Nov. 13, 2002) -- With soldiers deploying overseas for Operation Enduring Freedom, U.S. Army civilian Morale, Welfare and Recreation specialists are close behind to provide MWR programs for troops downrange.
MWR civilian employees recently deployed to Qatar, Afghanistan, and Djoubouti, Africa. Another is scheduled to deploy in December to set up a recreation site for U.S. troops in Uzbekistan.
"They're all new sites for MWR programs," said Kathleen Cole, MWR contingency operations program analyst at the U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center in Alexandria, Va. USACFSC is the Army headquarters responsible for delivering more than 200 MWR programs worldwide.
"All these folks are experienced MWR professionals," Cole said about the five deploying, "and all except one have been deployed previously to provide MWR programs to soldiers."
Each MWR site in the theater of operations has received a large unit MWR kit that contains weight equipment, basketball goals, board games and TVs with VCRs, said Cole, and additional weightlifting and aerobic equipment have also been purchased for all sites.
The assigned MWR recreation specialist and possibly an NCO will be the only staff at most locations. They will rely on military volunteers to help, Cole said.
"It's amazing how many soldiers want to volunteer with programs," said Cole, "whether it's to help referee games or teach aerobics."
Taking MWR downrange is essential for providing stress relief and for ensuring mission readiness of soldiers, said Cole. MWR personnel downrange work closely with their AAFES and Red Cross counterparts at each site, she said. "Our MWR professionals have plenty of experience to know the kind of programs that work," she said.
Civilian MWR professionals previously provided direct support to military operations in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Operation Uphold Democracy (Haiti), and Operation Joint Forge (Bosnia/Kosovo).
Most MWR personnel who deploy are selected from a roster of designated emergency essential civilians who have agreed to travel wherever MWR programs are needed for deployed troops, Cole said. She said individuals are chosen for their occupational specialties such as recreation, entertainment or sports.
Availability is key, said Cole. "Once you get the call, you have 30 days to report. That's what soldiers get and that's the status of these people who are designated as EECs."
When civilians deploy to a location downrange, the processing procedures are similar to those for soldiers, explained Cole. Each person deploying spends up to five days processing at a stateside installation replacement center.
There they live in barracks, share bathroom facilities, eat in the dining hall and are required to make formations, just like the active-duty troops who process through. Civilians are issued Geneva Convention identification cards and identification tags. They complete emergency notification forms and are issued military clothing and equipment appropriate for the region. Training includes chemical and biological protection, first aid, code of conduct instruction, health and sanitation tips, weapons familiarization and customs and courtesies for the area of deployment.
Jeff Nemeth, a recreation programmer from Ansbach, Germany, spent five days in mid-October at the Fort Benning, Ga., Continental U.S. Replacement Center before he deployed to Djibouti, Africa in support of OEF.
The 28-year old Galsburg, Ill., native holds a degree in recreation, park, tourism administration from Western Illinois University and says he considers himself a career MWR professional. A deployment veteran, Nemeth spent seven months at Camp Monteith, Kosovo, two years ago supporting units from Giessen, Germany.
"Professionally, I'm very, very excited about it," said Nemeth about his new assignment. "The soldiers just appreciate everything we do - down there it means much more.
Other MWR specialists recently deployed include Bob Vogt from Fort Dix, N.J., who set up a recreation site for troops in Qatar. Henri LeBorgne from White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and Andy Finnerty from Fort Myer, Va., recently deployed to Afghanistan. Mitch Thompson from Fort Myer, Va., departs in December for Uzbekistan said Cole.
The MWR specialists generally work 12-hour days, seven days a week for the duration of their 179-day tour and receive overtime and danger pay based upon location, said Cole.
"We need more people who really want the challenge of deploying," Cole said. "The willingness to go into a difficult environment with harsh living and work conditions does reap benefits. Soldiers truly appreciate the fact that MWR civilians are there with them."
"It's the most satisfying thing I've ever done," said Cole of her two and a half years duty in the Balkans. "I appreciated seeing the Army do what it's trained to do when it's really doing its mission. And I believe DoD civilians should be out there working right along with the soldiers."
(Note: Victoria Palmer is a senior information specialist with the Public Affairs Office of the U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center.)
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