What the Recruiter Never Told You

Part 14 -- Morale Welfare & Recreation Activities

Continued from Part 13

Nonappropriated Fund Activities, otherwise known as Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) activities, these used to be a significant benefit. Up until the mid-80s, the services were allowed to use appropriated funds (i.e., taxpayer's money) to support these functions. One used to be able to go into the NCO (Petty Officer) Club and get a beer for 35 cents. A game of bowling cost 30 cents.

Child Care cost 50 cents per hour (and the Child Care Centers were open until midnight!).

Then, almost overnight, Congress terminated almost all appropriated fund support. Congress's stated opinion was that most MWR activities should make a profit, or at the very least, should not operate in the red. Congress, in effect, said "If it loses money, then close it down."

Several MWR activities did close down in the years immediately following the change. Many bases which operated four separate clubs (one enlisted, one NCO, one Golf-Course Club, and one officer club), had to close down clubs, or consolidate into "all-ranks clubs."

When Congress said "no appropriated fund support," they meant exactly that. None...zero....zip....MWR activities not only had to make a profit, but they had to reimburse the government for any electricity/water/gas used, or for any maintenance/repair work that might be performed upon their buildings.

(Note: There are a few minor exceptions to the "no funds rule," such as libraries, gymnasiums, and other exercise/fitness activities).

There have now been changes made to the law which allow MWR facilities to operate "in the red," as long as the deficit is made up from another NAF function. For example, local commanders can operate the NCO club at a loss, provided they make a sufficient profit in the bowling alley to cover the deficit.

While MWR still offers competitive (and needed!) goods and services, it sure ain't the deal it used to be. Below, I've listed some of the main MWR activities, and the price one can expect to pay in order to use those services. If your particular base charges more or less for such services, please don't bury me in email. I'm shooting for an overall average here, and your particular mileage may vary.

Recreation Centers. Sometimes known as Community Centers or Community Activity Centers, these facilities act as kind of the "hub" around all other activities. Originally, these "Rec Centers" were places that the single G. I. could use to get away from the barracks, maybe watch a little TV, play a little pool, or ping-pong, or even a game of Monopoly. Now, Community Centers offer everything from concert tickets, to tours, to martial arts lessons. One can normally get a five or 10 percent discount on tickets and tours. Cost of various classes and lessons depends upon the duration and frequency, but is usually somewhere between $20.00 and $50.00 per month. If you're planning a special trip to Vegas, or Disney World, or some other well-known attraction, you may wish to visit the Community Center to see if they have discount tickets, before you try paying "at the door."

Clubs. Between increased costs, and a de-glamorization of alcohol, military clubs have, in my opinion, been spiraling steadily downhill for the past several years. Other than overseas, it would not surprise me to see a complete loss of these facilities in the not-so-distant future. A DWI is an absolute killer to a military career, and many bases do not have adequate alternative transportation systems (buses, taxi's, etc.) There is a perception that Military Police intentionally "stake out" the clubs, specifically looking for possible DWI offenses.

Additionally, there is a perceived fear among many that the "wrong person" will see someone "too many times" in the club, and cause them to be referred to the Drug & Alcohol Abuse Program. While these types of referral actions rarely occur, it doesn't change the fact that the perception is there. That being said, the club offers other important services, such as complete meals, and a facility to host private functions. There is a membership fee involved, typically about $8.00 per month for enlisted, and over $20.00 per month for officers.

Golf Courses. There isn't much I can tell you about military golf courses, as I am admittedly one of the World's lousiest golfers. The one time I allowed someone to talk me onto a course (about five years ago), I did note that by the time I got done paying for my "green fees," cart rental, club rental, golf balls, and golf tees, I could have bought groceries for a week.

I also noted that it was entirely possible for me to "re-learn" how to use profanity in public.

Child Development Centers. These used to be known as "Child Care Centers," and they did just that. They took care of your child for a few hours while you went shopping, to a movie, or out to a party. The fees were about $.50 per hour, and the centers usually stayed open until late in the evening, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.

However, as goes the nation, so goes the military. Child Care Centers are now Child Development Centers. They are geared mainly toward full-time care now, and the prices reflect the change (although, for most people it's substantially cheaper than off-base Child Development Centers).

Armed Forces Recreation Centers. Nope, these aren't the same things as the "Rec Centers" mentioned above. AFRCs are full-blown vacation resorts. MWR operates several of these, including the Hale Koa in Hawaii, the Dragon Hill Lodge in South Korea, AFRC in Europe, and Shades of Green at Walt Disney World. If you can plan your leave far enough in advance to get reservations, these lodges are well worth checking out -- for the price, if for nothing else. See our section on Leave & Travel for more information and current prices.

Bowling Alleys. Military bowling alleys operate pretty much the same as the local bowling alley off-base. A majority of them are modernized with synthetic lanes and computerized scoring systems. As with off-base establishments, leagues use a significant portion of the resources in the evening hours and on weekends. A majority of them have snack bars, and often some of the best fast food on base can be found at the bowling alley.

A line of bowing will cost you somewhere around $1.30 to $1.85 per line. Shoe rental, of course, is extra.

Aero Clubs. I sure wish I would have taken advantage of a military aero club before 1980. Back then, it was possible to get your private pilot's license for as little as $15.00 per hour (which included an instructor and a "wet" plane). Today, this same instruction will cost upward of $60.00 per hour. Considering it takes 40 hours of flight time, plus ground school to gain a private pilot's license, one can see how this can add up very quickly. (For example, at the time of this writing, the Aero Club at Eglin AFB, FA, estimates the cost of a private pilot's license to be about $4,160). Sadly, aero clubs may also be on their way out of the military MWR system. There used to be an aero club at each and every base which had access to a runway.

There are far fewer available today.

Youth Centers. Most bases have Youth Activity Centers which offer recreational activities for kids between the ages of 6 and 17. Most installations offer structured programs in sports and physical fitness, social and recreational activities/skills, personal development, day camps and teen programs. Periodic "lock-in" slumber parties offer a great way to give parents a "break" once in a while. Youth Centers normally charge a monthly fee, which can range from $5.00 to $15.00 per child, per month. Charges for some specific activities (such as trips) are extra.

Gymnasiums. Gymnasiums are considered mission essential for the health and fitness of active duty personnel, and therefore are allowed to operate mostly off of appropriated funds. Depending on the location and branch of service, gyms can be anything to a single room with some weights to full-blown fitness facilities which would rival any commercial gym off base. Most services in base gyms are free to active duty personnel. Sometimes, classes (such as aerobics) may be extra. A few gymnasiums now charge a small membership fee for DOD civilians and military dependents. Gyms are also the focus point for military sports programs. Almost any sport is supported, and run the gauntlet between a friendly lunchtime competition in racquetball, to intramural sport teams, to full-time Olympic/National Championships training and preparation.

Hobby Shops. Hobby shops offer an inexpensive way and professional tools/facilities to learn and do everything from basic pottery to wood working, to auto-repair. Rates are dependent upon the equipment, facilities, and equipment used. Several military people use the professional tools in the hobby shops to use their skills to supplement their family income.

I knew one E-4 who turned out beautiful wooden table lamps which he sold for $25.00 each. He could make eight of these on a weekend, and couldn't keep up with the demand. Another NCO used the auto facilities to completely rebuild and restore a 1965 Ford Mustang for me.

Libraries. Just like their off-base counterparts, this is another activity that still operates mostly from appropriated funds. Military libraries are normally not as extensive or up-to-date as their civilian counterparts, but they are definitely an appreciated and well-used service, especially overseas where there are few alternatives.

I've touched only on the main MWR services. Depending upon your base and branch of service, there may be other services, such as riding stables, outdoor recreation rentals, and more. Overall, MWR activities offer important services to military personnel and family members. Although one can make an argument that Congress was right, and these facilities should operate on a profit-making basis, the resultant increase in prices and loss of services over the past several years, can also be viewed as another example of "creeping benefit loss," by those who's paycheck still ranks significantly below the income of comparable civilians.

Other Parts to this Series: