By Andrew Revelos
Hard work and creativity have always been a part of Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs, but the coronavirus pandemic has underscored the importance of those qualities and the MWR staff who demonstrate them every day.
Like most of the country, Naval Support Activity South Potomac’s (NSASP) MWR is not conducting business as usual, but the staff is thinking outside the box to ensure it accomplishes its mission to support Sailors and families at Naval Support Facility (NSF) Dahlgren and NSF Indian Head.
Just like MWR supports warfighters during routine times, its staff has maintained that support to the greatest degree possible and demonstrated flexibility to support mission essential personnel during the pandemic in areas like childcare, NGIS, unaccompanied housing, food service and yes, to provide a little bit of fun escapism during these decidedly non-routine times… especially for the youngest members of the Navy family.
While not every MWR activity has been able to stay open, MWR leaders and staff have worked tirelessly and mostly behind-the-scenes to keep fighting the ship. On April 17, for example, MWR staff and NSASP Sailors joined forces to bring the Easter Bunny, complete with cloth facemask, on a drive-through of military housing to children cooped up at home.
“All of the [MWR] activities that remain open or partially open are only able to do so because of the creativity and dedication of our staff,” said Marissa Fabey, NSASP Fleet and Family Readiness director, who sewed the Easter Bunny’s cloth face mask just to set a responsible example to military children. “We know that just because most of our patrons are at home doesn’t mean their needs go away; it’s been inspiring to see so many members of the MWR staff step up to the challenge.”
Virtual activities have unsurprisingly been one of MWR’s new avenues of support. Customers may not be able to patronize fitness centers, for example, but a bit of creative camera work and professional know-how mean trainers now offer virtual workouts via MWR’s new YouTube channel.
“Virtual fitness and video tips is something that has gained a lot of traction as social media has grown so popular, so with the pandemic shutting down gyms nationwide I thought this would be a great time to get MWR involved and stay connected,” said Scotty Minns, fitness director at NSF Dahlgren and one of MWR’s new video stars.
Minns was a bit nervous to make the jump to video, but is no stranger when it comes to providing customers with instruction and support. The videos are not only popular among customers, but an engaging production for staff. “I am overall just glad my team was excited and enjoyed coming together to connect and support the patrons who we really love having in our facility,” he said. “I hope those patrons were able to utilize the videos and continue working out until we are able to come back together.”
Child and Youth Programs (CYP) was and remains an area of special attention for MWR and exemplifies how programs have adapted to meet in-person and virtual needs. “We support Sailors by offering care daily to the essential personnel so that they can still complete the mission,” said Keme Bowens, Youth Activity Center (YAC) director at NSF Dahlgren.
Maintaining the ability to support Sailors during a pandemic, however, requires flexibility and discipline that are, well… a bit military-like.
“We have taken safety measures of providing health screenings with temperature checks before entering the building and wearing facial coverings. We also have [additional handwashing],” Bowens said, “and have limited family style dining – meaning the kids no longer serve themselves. The staff have been divided into three teams (including Youth and CDC staff) and have been placed on a rotating schedule of working one week and off two weeks [to limit] the amount of people entering the facility and trying to do as much social distancing as possible.”
“We have daily COVID meetings with the Regional CYP Team,” Bowens continued, “to be informed about changes to the programs, updates, daily numbers, and to discuss questions from parents and staff, or any information that is important for everyone to know.”
Candace Ladd, CYP director at NSF Indian Head, offered high praise for her employees’ efforts. “During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, [CYP] has adapted well to the many program changes and constant policy updates,” she said. “The staff are currently on a rotation schedule, but that hasn’t affected their ability to uphold the responsibilities of a CYP professional. From deep cleaning the classroom and making face coverings for the CYP team, to sharing virtual lesson plans and activities with our families; the IH CYP team has made the best of very difficult situation. The staff have united in a way that showcases true integrity, and clearly defines what it means to embody teamwork.”
The CYP team has been able to take advantage of caring for fewer children due to the stay-at-home orders. At the end of every day staff can more easily sanitize the facilities, which have been consolidated based on the lower numbers, and focus on the mission they signed up for: providing top quality childcare.
The CYP staff have not only maintained that mission, but now deliver support in creative, often-virtual new ways, to include facility tours, field trips, group meetings and help with homework. “We even schedule spirit weeks to do special days such as favorite jersey day or pajama day,” said Bowens, along with events to keep up staff morale.
As if the responsibilities of child care were not enough, some staff members went even further. “CYP is especially grateful to two of our team members, Mi-Son Boles and Nadia Tuggle, for hand making hundreds of face coverings for our staff to wear as we enter the workforce daily,” said Clifton Wise, CYP director at Dahlgren.
“The majority of our masks [for the NSF Indian Head CYP] were made by Ms. Lina Proctor,” added Ladd. “I and other staff member assisted, but the glory should really go to her!”
Those kinds of actions – too numerous to list among MWR activities at NSF Dahlgren and NSF Indian Head – have inspired not only customers and social media engagement, but leaders. “All of us, whether we’re leaders or managers, or fighting the good fight at the ground level like MWR employees are doing, have been forced to adapt to the reality of COVID-19 as we work to complete our missions,” said Capt. Michael O’Leary, commanding officer of NSASP. “I’m proud of the ‘can-do’ attitude and creativity that MWR at Dahlgren and Indian Head have demonstrated… their outstanding efforts to support Sailors and families have never been more important.”