There are 155 park and recreation agencies within the United States to date that have been accredited based on national standards of excellence. Six belong to the Department of Defense -- two in the Navy, and four in the Army.
Of those six, only one has been reaccredited under the newest federal standards: Fort Knox.
"We are the first military agency to get reaccredited using the revised Self-Assessment for Military Agencies, which was updated in October 2016," said Mark Wicker, chief of Community Recreation Division, Fort Knox Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation.
The four accredited Army installations include Fort Carson in Colorado, U.S. Army Garrison in Hawaii, Fort Riley in Kansas, and Fort Knox.
To maintain accreditation, facilities must meet or exceed specific standards every five years. Those standards are developed, approved and tested by the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies, or CAPRA, which implements the standards in five phases: agency staff training on the process, development of a self-assessment report, review of the self-assessment by the commission to determine whether an agency is ready to be inspected, the onsite visit, and review and a decision by the commission.
Fort Carson was the first DOD agency to earn accreditation in 2004, followed three years later by Fort Knox. Wicker said accreditation offered Knox something they hadn't had before.
"Accreditation answered our question, 'How are we doing?' through extensive self-evaluation," said Wicker. "There's a difference between 'we think we have a great agency' and 'we know.' CAPRA validates it and is a testament of excellence."
That validation is done through an extensive set of standards that evaluate every aspect of the facilities and programs developed and maintained at a park and recreation agency.
In 2007, only 75 other agencies across the United States had been accredited by CAPRA, based on meeting or exceeding 90 percent of 106 non-fundamental standards and 100 percent of the remaining 38 fundamental standards. To be reaccredited, agencies must meet at least 95 percent of the non-fundamental standards.
Under the 2016 update, Fort Knox had 151 standards, 37 of which were fundamental.
"I sat down and seriously weighed the pros and cons. I concluded the pros are much greater than the cons," said Wicker. "The long-lasting benefits are huge. When you go through CAPRA, you are essentially looking at yourself through a third party's eyes."
Wicker said accreditation provides agencies with a great starting point of excellence from which to improve services.
After the 2007 evaluation, Wicker said they developed a way to analyze successes and shortcomings through what they call the Knox Recreation Program Evaluation Tool.
Since then, they have won various Best in Army recognition awards, including the Gold Medal award in 2013. Wicker explained that although CAPRA is not part of the awards criteria, it does provide them with quality content for awards nomination packets.
Accreditation has also revealed some facility shortcomings.
"We've developed a phased plan for the removal of barriers to existing facilities," said Wicker. "Since 2007, over 50 percent of our recreation facilities have received accessibility improvements."
Wicker said another benefit is a seat at the table when installation leaders are making plans and discussing operations.
"We've experienced improved working relationships both internal and external to MWR," said Wicker.
Probably the most important benefit, according to Wicker, is ensuring that officials don't lose sight of what is most important.
"Let's face it, many of us are already fighting above our weight class. Accreditation demonstrates good stewardship of diminishing resources," said Wicker. "Our service members and their Families deserve the best services we can provide."