Military Times

Troops and their families can expect cuts to pools, libraries and other MWR programs

This article was updated on Sept. 9 to include the Marine Corps response.

Soldiers and families around the world will soon see the results of budget cuts in morale, welfare and recreation programs, including closures of some facilities, reduced operating hours and increased fees.

The MWR cuts are separate from a 23 percent cut in staff at Army Community Service Centers over the next two years.

Officials are implementing a $105 million cut -- about 23 percent -- in taxpayer funding for MWR for fiscal 2017, which starts Oct. 1. 

"We're going to begin to feel some of that impact at the installation," said Lt. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, commanding general of the Army Installation Management Command, in a video message to the force. 

It's up to the garrison commanders and senior commanders to determine how they carry out the reductions at their installations, Dahl said.

"The problem with leaving all the decisions up to the garrison commanders is that there don't seem to be good standards on what the basic level of support services should be," said Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association. That organization expects to meet later this month with Army officials to get more information about the guidelines for the cuts, she said.

Installation leaders have until next Thursday to report on how they will make the cuts, said an Army official, who added that IMCOM officials will be watching the situation closely. 

The Army must divert some of its limited MWR funds for critical post operating services, such as contracts for security, firefighting and airfields, Dahl said. 

Separate from the MWR cuts, the Army expects to eliminate 339 positions in Army Community Services across 75 installations and headquarters over the next two fiscal years, reducing the number of personnel from 1,479 to 1,140, according to one official who spoke on background. ACS provides programs and services in areas that include relocation and financial assistance and spouse employment. Troops and families may start to see some of the effects in 2017, he said.

Dahl said officials will continue "100 percent support" to child development centers and child and youth services. "To the greatest extent possible we're going to sustain those at their current levels," he said.

Officials also plan to maintain the current level of MWR programs at remote and isolated installations. "We're not looking at scaling back any of the services we provide there because there are no alternatives" outside the installation, he said.

Marine Corps spokeswoman Heather Hagan said that service doesn't plan any  reductions in MWR at this time, but as part of a thorough program review, they routinely assess MWR programs and services.

Information was not available from  Air Force officials about whether their installations are facing impending cuts in MWR or family programs. 

But some of these Army cuts may affect troops and families of other service branches, especially those stationed on joint bases where the Army is the lead service. For example, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the Air Force's previous MWR was taken over by Army MWR.

"We have to keep in mind what the requirement is for service delivery in terms of the memorandum (between the services), or let the Air Force know we're not going to meet the terms and here's why," the official said. 

Navy officials don't anticipate additional cuts to MWR programs in 2017, but they have been making adjustments and cuts to programs, especially since fiscal 2013 when budget constraints forced everyone to look for ways to be more efficient, said James Baker, Navy MWR program director. Since then, some programs have been closed, such as golf courses that were not being used, he said. Golf courses must be self-sustaining, and receive no taxpayer funds.

The Navy has also eliminated most arts and crafts centers, auto skills centers and wood hobby shops, except in remote locations where there are no options outside the gate.

There have also been some other adjustments to Navy MWR programs, such as hours of operation, based on customer use.

"We continue to look at the right mix. We adapt to customers' needs, rather than forcing constraints due to budgetary demands," Baker said. "That's the ideal state. We have been fortunate to stay ahead of that." Officials continue to evaluate programs such as fitness, community recreation, entertainment, travel and outdoor recreation, he said. 

Some Army posts have also been making reductions over the last five years. At Fort Drum, New York, the new reduction in funding should have a "mild impact" on immediate operations, said spokeswoman Julie Halpin. "That is only possible because we saw the writing on the wall with regard to [Family and MWR] funding early after sequestration hit." She said they've worked to properly invest in services that are partially funded by taxpayer dollars, and services that receive no taxpayer funding to ensure that they are either nearly self-sustaining, breaking even or making money to offset other losses. "Those programs that weren't hitting those marks were either revamped, like our bowling center last year, or discontinued, like arts and crafts in fiscal 2012," Halpin said.

The impact of upcoming cuts is more likely to be felt in areas like outdoor recreation, arts and crafts, and auto skills, Dahl said. For example, a service might have to reduce its hours, or increase its fees. If there are volunteers who are willing to help, and if the program or service is conducive to allowing volunteers, there might be no impact, he said. 

Here are some upcoming Army cuts in MWR programs: 

Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Officials are cutting $750,000 from MWR, according to a news release. A fitness center will be closed and the operating hours at the installation's three remaining gyms will be cut to 90 hours a week. The library will be open five days a week, rather than seven. The auto crafts center will be open four days a week, rather than  five. Recreation trips and delivery services will be reduced or eliminated. One of the two pools will be closed.

Fort Huachuca, Arizona. $500,000 will be cut from the post's MWR, according to a news release. The Sportsman's Center will no longer sell ammunition or rent weapons. The skeet and trap ranges and the Saturday Range 3 operation will be open for customers who bring their own weapons and ammunition.

Fort Carson, Colorado. The post "will continue to rely significantly on borrowed military manpower from the 4th Infantry Division to sustain hours of operation and reduced pricing in our fitness centers and aquatics programs," said spokeswoman Dani Johnson. There's a substantially reduced workforce as a result of the reduction in overhead costs for MWR support services.  A small number of programs with low patronage and/or high-cost per participant have been reduced, Johnson said. The Youth Services Center will be closed on Sundays; and there will be a reduction of Caring Saturdays and Friday Date Nights programs. Some programs' fees will increases by $1 or less, starting Oct. 1.

Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Because of a 25 percent reduction in taxpayer funding, the library's hours are being cut, said Brenda Spencer-Ragland, Fort Sill Family and MWR director. Fees will be implemented for services such as pools, outdoor recreation areas and special events and programs.

Here's how some of the $105 million will be used on Army posts:

Special staff contracts and critical requirements -- $33.7 million

Airfield contracts and critical requirements -- $13.3 million

Firefighter contracts -- $13.1 million

Storm damage reserve -- $5 million

Special staff pay -- $4.8 million

Security contracts and critical requirements -- $1 million

"You can help by understanding this is something that has to be done in order for us to remain combat ready and to invest in our readiness," Dahl said in his message. "When we have fewer resources, the cuts have to be taken from somewhere."

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