If you think MWR spending is frivolous come spend a week with us
"While demands for increased effectiveness and efficiency are to be expected, I fear that misperceptions about the absence of a link between MWR programs and combat readiness will place those programs at greater risk of being cut too deeply," Wilson, chairman of the House Armed Services Military Personnel subcommittee, said last week.
MWR - that stands for Morale, Welfare and Readiness - funds a range of programs on military bases. Generally, there are two categories: Readiness programs such as fitness centers and libraries, and community services such as child care, preschools and youth sports. Obviously, though, a gym is as much a community service on isolated posts as a library is.
Wilson told McClatchy Newspapers recently that he worries that lawmakers in both parties might favor a "guns vs. gymnasiums" approach, seeing MWR programs as not crucial.
For once, I'm with Wilson. Maybe it's because the name of the program makes it sound like fluff to civilians - who cares about morale when the layoff ax rolls through your office once a month - or maybe it's because most of the things MWR funds are easily accessible in the civilian world. What's overlooked is that in the case of some bases - Fort Irwin included - the civilian world is far, far away.
Not a week goes by that we don't use at least one MWR program. Most weeks, it's two or more.
And, yes, though we're isolated here we're not living under a rock. We get that there are going to be service cuts and fee increases - we've seen both here already.
Our library is down to barely open on weekends. You have two hours to get there on Saturdays, and it hasn't been open on Sundays for as long as we've been here. It's tolerable, though it does make life that much more rushed for families with single parents or two parents who work traditional schedules.
Youth sports registration has skyrocketed in the past year, surpassing costs in some civilian leagues, and that's for 20 percent fewer games. There are no refs anymore for 5- and 6-year-olds. Not that refs are essential at that age, but it's still a cut.
Youth sports is so expensive now, in fact, that it's difficult for single-income lower-ranking enlisted families to afford it if they have more than one child who wants to play. The fee hikes already are dangerously close to creating "haves" and "have nots."
Preschool costs also have climbed - I'm not sure by how much because I no longer have children in the programs. Many charter trips that made travel easier have been eliminated as well.
So it's not as if military families aren't already being asked to pay more or deal with less. We are, and we understand why.
But, just as budget cutters need to know the ramifications of asking families to pay more for increasingly subpar Tricare health services, they need to be aware of exactly what they're doing when they dismiss MWR as frills or frivolity.
At many posts, both stateside and overseas, MWR is a lifeline. It's our only link to programs readily available - and affordable - in most communities in the United States.
Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.