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Marriage retreats preserved despite budget cuts

May. 8, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Though budgets are tight and multiple combat-coded squadrons have been grounded, the Air Force is interested in saving marriages and giving airmen a break from the stress of military life.

Since late March, several base contracting squadrons have issued requests for information on seeking accommodations for weekend retreats, even as Air Force officials were telling Congress that Rome was burning because of sequestration.

While the RFIs don’t mention how much each base is willing to spend on retreats, the information these squadrons request suggests the service isn’t looking to skimp when it comes to resiliency.

At Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., the Air Force awarded RB Daytona LLC & Hospitality Ventures MA a $34,936 contract April 26 for three-day marriage retreats in early May and late June. The solicitation from the 45th Space Wing Headquarters Command seeks “four-diamond” or better resort accommodations because they are “upscale in all areas” and “accommodations are progressively more refined and stylish.”

The solicitation says the 25 to 32 rooms per weekend should include an ocean view. While single airmen will have to pay for their own spa services, married airmen could have free access to recreational activities such as “surfboard rental, bicycle rental, or water park” as long as it costs $40 or less, the document says.

The retreats are run by the Air Force chapel program and are funded in several ways, said spokeswoman Lt. Col. Laurel Tingley. This year, $3.4 million has been budgeted for AirmanCare events, Tingley said, but a delay in the distribution of those funds means that the Air Force is approved to spend $1.7 million.

Local commanders also can provide money for chapel retreats. The offerings given to local Air Force chapels may be used to fund them.

“These programs are one example of how the Air Force is dedicated to developing a culture of resiliency,” Tingley said in an email. “The Air Force’s goal is to educate and provide resources for airmen and families to build and maintain resilience throughout the member’s entire career. Programs that support families provide valuable education and social opportunities.”

Because of budget constraints, some retreats have become seminars instead or have been canceled, Tingley said.

Some other requirements for retreats for single and married airmen and their families are:

■Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark.: Accommodations must be at least two double beds to a room; the retreat location must have outdoor activities such as horseback riding, rock climbing and zip-lining.

■Hurlburt Field, Fla.: The 1st Special Operations Wing wants four-star hotel or deluxe resort accommodations within 45 miles of the installation.

■Pope Field, N.C.: The 24th Special Operations Wing wants four-star or deluxe resort accommodations with views of the ocean.

■Creech and Nellis Air Force bases, Nev.: The preferred resort would be nongaming, or a facility where the accommodations are in a separate building from a casino for both retreats. The Creech retreat would preferably located near Lake Las Vegas, and the Nellis retreat would be between 250 and 300 miles from base.

■Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.: Accommodations for this marriage retreat must be at a hotel, resort or retreat center two hours or more from the base that provides recreational opportunities such as an indoor pool and a golf course.

■Travis Air Force Base, Calif.: Retreats for married couples, women and single airmen must be at least three-star accommodations within 12 miles of a specific intersection in Tahoe City, Calif. The contractor must provide at least two on-site hot tubs, an on-site fitness center, a heated pool, free parking and in-room Internet services.

Sue Nelson, community support coordinator for the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt, said special operators, in particular, have faced multiple deployments that result in strained relationships and finances. The programs offered through the airman and readiness center and the chaplain’s office are designed to equip airmen and families with necessary coping skills so they can stay focused while on the job.

The retreats provide skill workshops and an opportunity to get away from job responsibilities and decompress in a more relaxed environment, she said.

The wing has reduced the number of retreats it provides because of budget constraints, Nelson said. As many as eight retreats have been held in a year. This year, there will be five.

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