KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – The U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz community not only gets to enjoy being part of the recent Best Garrison in Europe award, but they also have access to some of the best services an installation can offer. Earlier this year, the garrison’s Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (DFMWR) was named a finalist for the 2020 National Gold Medal Awards for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management.
The National Gold Medal Award Program, managed and governed by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration, honors civilian communities in the United States and military installations around the world for excellence in parks and recreation through long-range planning, resource management, volunteerism, environmental stewardship, program development, professional development, and agency recognition. There are only 24 finalists selected among thousands of park and recreation agencies worldwide.
DFMWR at every military installation oversees Army Community Service (ACS); Child Youth and School Services (CYSS); Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS); and automotive skill centers, arts and crafts, theaters, libraries, and fitness centers.
Deputy Director of DFMWR Ingrid Osewalt said that what sets the garrison apart from the rest is about going the extra mile for the community.
“[We] provide relevant, reliable and predictable services and support to Soldiers and their families,” she said. “We strive to be the first choice for our customers and we want them to use our services because we are their first choice, and not because we are the only game in town.”
Backing up that community preference was last month’s release of the annual Stars and Stripes Best of Germany reader’s poll that recognized DFMWR’s Pulaski Auto Shop as the best auto repair shop in Kaiserslautern, and the contracted eatery Shawings at the Kazabra Club on Vogelweh was also named a first place winner by community members.
Osewalt said a big part of their focus involves securing government funding for major renovations, minor constructions, and capital purchases – a highly competitive process. In 2019, sixty-six Capital Purchase Minor Construction (CPMC) projects totaling $1.35M were completed, helping enhance services and upgrade facilities throughout the Rheinland-Pfalz footprint. DFMWR also obtained almost $4.9 million in capital investment to renovate the aquatic center at Smith Barracks, Baumholder, the Army’s only indoor pool in Germany.
“We now offer not only water survival training for military personnel in Germany, but also a place for recreation year-round,” Osewalt said.
She said enhancing programs for kids is also a major focus. In 2019, Child and Youth Services (CYS) took ownership of an abandoned, unsafe skate park rarely used for its intended purpose, and DFMWR lobbied for funding to re-purpose the park as a covered turf youth sports field. Today, the field is used by Army youth enrolled in CYS year-round sports and fitness programs.
Post libraries also teamed with CYS to hold several large family events, such as Dinovember, Fancy Tea Party, and Polar Express, with over 300 attending each.
“These events were in addition to 800+ literacy-based programs organized by library staff in 2019,” Osewalt said.
Another important distinction, she said, is the robust volunteer network that helps keep USAG RP thriving. More than 7,500 Soldiers, civilians, retirees, spouses, and youth volunteer throughout the garrison footprint for schools, hospitals, sports fields, entertainment events, community theater, and recreational activities. In 2019, volunteers put in almost 145,000 hours of work, for about $3.8 million in labor savings.
In particular, volunteers at the KMC Onstage, the garrison’s community theater located on Kleber Kaserne, donated over 55,000 hours of their time to produce 37 musicals, comedies, and dramas over the last three years.
Beth Dougherty is one of them. She started volunteering for behind-the-scenes work at KMC Onstage when her children took part in Seussical the Musical in 2017.
“I will never forget seeing one of the first props I made onstage,” she said. “It got a laugh every time the actor used it, and I was hooked. Ever since then I have been volunteering every Wednesday and Friday during the season to work on the sets.”
She estimates that she’s worked on about 20 productions, to include painting sets, making props, running the sound booth, managing the stage, and even acting once. What started out as a way to get out of the house and meet people turned into a vital creative outlet.
“When people come together to use their talents and passion to create a show, something magical happens,” she said. “There is an energy exchange between the audience and performers that can bring people into the present moment and make you feel alive in a way that watching Netflix or surfing Facebook can’t.”
Dougherty said DFMWR programs, especially overseas, give people a way to connect and belong to something that would otherwise be unavailable to them, and volunteering helps make it all possible.
“Volunteering is the gift of your time,” Dougherty said. “Volunteering also gives back to you. Many things in this area could not exist without the generous gift of people’s time. It’s a win-win for the volunteers and customers of FMWR.”
Osewalt said 2020 brought with it many new challenges to most DFMWR services and projects due to the COVID 19 pandemic.
“We had to shut down most of our front door services for several months, and at the same time, find ways to remain relevant after re-opening,” she said. “We also had to figure out how to provide support and maintain relationships with our customers while we were closed.”
To stay compliant with regulations, DFMWR offered outdoor fitness classes and lots of virtual programming.
“Looking back, I think we did an awesome job during the first wave and I am confident that we will also get through this second wave and associated temporary facility closures,” Osewalt said.
The future, she said, could bring with it financial challenges that make it harder to make major facility improvements or purchase new equipment and furniture, but she remains optimistic.
“These hurdles will only make us work harder and stronger as a team,” she said. “And, speaking of the FMWR team, we have one of the finest and most professional FMWR teams I have ever been associated with in my career. Despite the current crisis, morale is high and our team members continue to give 100% each and every day.”