Fort Knox has been chosen as the 2013 Gold Medal Award winner for excellence in park and recreation management by the National Parks and Recreation Association in partnership with the American Academy for Parks and Recreation Administration in the Armed Forces recreation category. Last year, Knox was a finalist but this year, snagged the gold medal.

According to the NPRA, the Gold Medal Award honors communities throughout the United States that demonstrate excellence in long-range planning, resource management, and agency recognition. Each agency is judged on its ability to address the needs of those it serves.

According to Randy Moore, director of Knox's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, the key to this year's success might have been the strategic plan.

"It's a road map for the services we offer and what we hope to accomplish," Moore said.

"We didn't develop the plan for this competition," said Melinda Stickle, chief of Business Activities Division. "We already had developed one."

"It's not uncommon for a large metropolitan recreation department to have a strategic plan," Moore added. However, many civilian recreation parks lack a strategic plan, but the one in place at Knox has existed for years and has been fine-tuned through quarterly meetings of the FMWR leadership.

The strategic planning process--while critical to providing the best customer service at the best time in the best way--is a tough nut to crack.

"It's easy to talk about planning," Moore said. "But it's hard to convert the talk into action and even harder to follow up on the action and keep the ball rolling."

The five divisions of FMWR include:
Army Community Service Division, Melinda Roberts, chief;
Child, Youth and School Services, Rayceil Oggs, chief;
Community Recreation Division, Mark Wicker, chief;
Business Activities Division, Melinda Stickle, chief; and
NAF Support Services Division, Betsy Faber, chief.

Those division chiefs meet at weekly staff meetings and they keep one another focused on the follow-up needed to make the strategic plan a reality for the Soldiers and Family members who reap the benefits of the FMWR offerings.

That strategic plan helped guide FMWR through the post's major transformation from a schoolhouse culture--meaning while the Armor School was the primary unit most Soldiers were senior NCOs or officers or students in a training status--to a very different one.

The installation changes effected by Base Realignment and Closure meant that a large segment of the Soldiers on Fort Knox were now assigned to deployable units, explained Moore. His directorate conducted training for its employees to help them understand the deployment cycle to be as customer sensitive as possible. The training was also provided to surrounding communities and schools. Understanding the deployment culture also ensured that activities would be planned for spouses waiting for their Soldiers' return as well as events to celebrate redeployment and help the transitions throughout the various stages of deployment.

More challenges lie ahead as the largest deployable unit on the installation--3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division--will be inactivated next year.

"The strategic planning process will help us answer the changes coming with the loss of 3-1 customers," Moore said. "But it also affects us because many of our employees are the spouses of 3-1 Soldiers, so we'll have to take that into account as well."

Many special projects--that Knox citizens might take for granted--have been the work of FMWR such as the Blue Star card, the Radio Frequency identification labels at Barr Library and the Jumbotron advertising boards. However, many others have been possible through the concerted support from other installation agencies like the Directorate of Public Works--such as updates at the physical fitness centers, environmental management and energy stewardship, irrigation at the golf course and integrating electric media and information technology into many traditional programs.

There are too many elements featured in the application to explain each one--the packet addressed resources in long range planning, specialized services, technology innovations, stewardship efforts, citizen support systems, and staff involvement--but the list included:

* Programs to support each of the phases of deployment--training, departure and redeployment
* Warrior Adventure Quest, which serves Soldiers once they return
* HRC challenge--employees who relocated from a metropolitan area in a civilian setting now working on a military installation and unfamiliar with resources on post
* Programs for at-risk populations:
* Exceptional Family Member Program administers the Young Athlete program, Schools of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills (SKIES), Autism Support Group, New Parent Support Program, as well as an alternative program for teen juvenile offenders
* Survivor Outreach Services
* Soldier and Family Assistance Center for the Warrior Transition Battalion
* Indoor and Outdoor Recreation Plans
* The FMWR Delivery System, which identifies customer demand driven programming
* Customer Service Training
* The installation's environmental stewardship was by highlighted 16 different features that Fort Knox has introduced or upgraded, such as:
* DPW's environmental management division developed SOPs to preserve the post's historic buildings and cemeteries
* Hazardous Waste amnesty day
* Extensive nature trails
* Archaelogical surveys of 6,800 acres
* Lakes added to the golf course serve as water hazards, irrigation for the course, and water to a decorative fountain at the main post entrance
* Recycling program avoids garbage costs while generating funds
* Indiana bat management program
* Trout nursery which stocks fishing lakes on post

Although the award's application packet also contains volumes of statistics and explanations, the Gold Medal award reflects the mindset of FMWR's people.

"We do such a good job of working together to support a common goal," said Roberts. "We're meeting Soldier's needs--we couldn't do any of these things without this teamwork and communication. We rely on each other's expertise."

"That's what makes us successful," Moore said. "We typically don't make any decision in a vacuum; it's to our advantage to talk with our customers as much as possible."

"This award has been a goal of mine--to be part of a Gold Medal organization--it doesn't get any better in our field," said Wicker. "I am very proud to be part of this team."

"This award has substance to it," said Oggs. "It's not just words on paper."

"It's an honor to be part of a team that takes care of Soldiers and Families," said Stickle.

"We do our jobs for our Soldiers and Families--our customers--but we did this for ourselves," Moore said. "This is for our satisfaction and validation."