WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 14, 2011) -- The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel began its 2011 hearing cycle last week looking at the Defense Department's Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs.
MWR can be broken down into two categories:
-- Mission support activities, which include fitness, libraries, recreation centers, single servicemember programs, intramural sports, and unit activities
-- Community support activities, which include child and youth development programs, outdoor recreation, crafts and automotive skills, and small bowling centers
"MWR programs will be subjected to increased pressure to maintain effectiveness while operating more efficiently," said Congressman Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), chairman of the Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee.
"(But) we must not allow MWR programs to become easy targets for the budget cutters," Wilson said.
While Wilson acknowledged that decisions about programs needing to be cut or reduced will be difficult, he hoped that MWR managers are prepared to justify the programs that are truly critical to servicemembers and their families.
"We hope to learn more about the strategy that MWR managers will pursue in the coming months to meet the demands of this new era of budget austerity," Wilson said.
Wilson, a retired Army National Guard colonel, opened the hearing Feb. 10, with other congressmen, directors of military MWR programs, and Robert L. Gordon, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Military Community and Family Policy in attendance.
"This subcommittee has always viewed the wide range of programs that comprise the MWR community as essential elements within a healthy military community, and it remains strongly committed to supporting these programs," Wilson said.
DoD, Wilson said, has correctly crossed over into a new era of austerity marked by increased fiscal scrutiny of all programs and a pursuit of increased budget efficiency.
"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 said, adding that superior combat capability is directly dependent on the strength of the military community.
On Jan. 24, President Obama announced 50 initiatives by 16 federal agencies to help support military Families with programs designed to improve psychological health resources, ensure excellence in education for children of servicemembers, develop career and education opportunities for military spouses, and increase the availability of child care.
Speaking to cabinet members, military senior leaders and their spouses in the White House Green Room, Obama was reported as saying, "One hundred percent of Americans need to be supporting the 1 percent who are fighting U.S. wars."
First Lady Michelle Obama, according to a House Armed Services Subcommittee report, announced a year-long campaign to promote the plan and draw more attention to the needs of military families.
Gordon told the panel that the services have been doing a good job to assess their programs by sharply focusing on what servicemembers and families want.
"In the defense department, we are about machines and people. We've been at war for 10 years and families, in terms of retention and readiness, are essential," said Gordon, a West Point graduate with an Army career of 26 years.
"So with respect to leadership, with respect to assessment of programs, and with respect to the infrastructure in place, I think we're in good shape," he said.
Rich Gorman, executive director and chief operating officer of the Army's Family & MWR Command, acknowledged the need to be fiscally conscious.
"When the Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. came out of Iraq in April 2007, he said the Army was out of balance. So, he immediately put us to work to create the Army Family Covenant and the commitment to funding that is steadfast," Gorman said.
"At the same time, we also accept the responsibility to develop, what General Casey calls, a cost culture, where we turn a new page in our approach to fiscal management. It's not about executing dollars, but it's about what we get for the money we spend in terms of value we provide our servicemembers and their families in exchange for their magnificent service," he said.
Casey and Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the Army Installation Management Command, said Gorman, frequently say that the Army is not going to break because of its Soldiers, but it might break because of its families.
"Economy, efficiency and effectiveness have long been goals of Army MWR programs, although their relative priority has changed over time, driven by deployment, budget and staffing requirements," Gorman said.
"Where it makes sense, we will embrace change to address what's missing. But our focus will remain not on "change" but on "better" as we strive, with your help, to keep our promise to provide Soldiers and families with a quality of life commensurate with their service and sacrifice," he said.
At the conclusion of the second day of hearings, Gordon summed up the efforts of the military MWR program directors for the panel of congressmen that included Susan Davis (D-Calif.), retired Army Lt. Col. Allen West (R-Fla.), and Congressman Austin Scott (R-Ga.).
"Be assured that as we move our defense enterprise toward a more efficient, effective, and cost-conscious way of doing business, we will take care of our most valuable asset: our servicemembers and their families," he said.
"I look forward to working with Congress in this effort. We share a passion for improving the quality of life of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines and their families," Gordon said.