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Navy spouse fighting back to keep fitness program she founded

FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — Christina Landry has earned kudos for DumBell Fitness, her boot camp-style classes tailored for military spouses in the Honolulu area.

A Navy veteran and wife of an active-duty sailor, Landry founded DumBell in 2009, and its classes have been embraced by hundreds of spouses living in pockets of military housing on or near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. It has provided part-time employment for about 20 military spouses.

Last fall she was flown to Washington, D.C., by the Association of the U.S. Army to showcase her entrepreneurial talents at the organization’s Military Spouse CEO Experience expo.

She was named the joint base’s spouse of the year for 2014 by Military Spouse magazine.

But she hasn’t gotten much respect from one place: the Navy.

In May, the Navy essentially ousted her classes from base property and turned over her business to an outside contractor after a request-for-proposals process.

Landry appealed the decision to the base leadership and has continued to hold classes on the grounds of a church near the base. More than 700 people signed an online petition to return DumBell classes to the base.

Last week, she earned at least a temporary reprieve, after the base commander informed her by letter that the fitness contract would be “re-competed” because of “procedural and substantive errors” the first time around.

Landry lives on Ford Island, which was where the U.S. fleet was anchored during the surprise attack by the Japanese in December 1941. The island’s residential housing for sailors and their families has been privatized, operated by a company named Forest City, as has much of the Navy’s housing in the area.

Five years ago, Landry approached the manager of the base gym, which is operated by the Navy’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation Service, and pitched the idea of offering a boot camp fitness program in her neighborhood.

She made an agreement with Forest City to use the community center for child care while classes were held in outside common areas, and she held her first class in June 2009.

Alice Pope, a Navy wife who lives in the base’s Makalapa neighborhood, started taking DumBell classes in the fall of 2012 because the child care allowed her to work out up to five times a week.

She said the classes build “the spirit of community” because participants are surrounded by “other people who are committed to making themselves healthier in a very positive way.”

DumBell charged $110 per month for three classes a week, each about an hour long. Class size was limited to 30.

After questions arose the first year whether the business competing with MWR’s operations, the Judge Advocate General’s office determined that DumBell was a private organization that did not compete with MWR, provided Landry didn’t use any MWR facilities. The JAG office renewed this status for four consecutive years, according to documents provided by Landry to Stars and Stripes.

DumBell’s eventual ouster from Pearl Harbor-Hickam began in April 2013, however, when a federal fire marshal inspected the Ford Island community center and declared it out of code and unfit for child care. They moved the child care outdoors.

In a meeting early last summer with then base commander Capt. J.W. James and a representative from the JAG office, Landry was told that the MWR would issue a request for proposals for fitness boot camp classes, to which Landry could apply. Being awarded the contract in this manner would bring the business under “the umbrella of MWR,” Landry said the James had assured her.

The JAG officer told Landry that her status as a non-competitor with MWR “was null and void and had no bearing with how we proceeded forward,” Landry said.

Landry said that she was told “money wasn’t the issue — it was the overall value of the program” that would be important in any proposal so her proposal offered 5 percent of the business’s gross revenues, even though the RFP required 15 percent.

“I was thinking that it didn’t have anything to do with money, that the base actually valued our program and wanted it,” she said. Aside from that, the business’s margin wasn’t great enough to hand over 15 percent of gross revenue, she said.

“After everyone’s paid, we don’t make that much money,” she said.

In May this year she was notified by an MWR contracting officer that the contract for boot camp fitness on Pearl Harbor-Hickam had been awarded to another company, the only other company to have submitted a proposal, Landry said.

She said the contracting officer with Navy Region Northwest in the state of Washington told her that the other company was “more advantageous.”

That contracting officer declined to comment on the matter when called by Stars and Stripes, and her supervisor referred questions back to Navy Region Hawaii.

Navy Region Hawaii, which has jurisdiction over MWR matters at Pearl Harbor-Hickam, declined a request to interview parties involved in decisions about DumBell Fitness or to comment on specifics about Landry’s case.

In a statement emailed to Stars and Stripes last week, Navy Region Hawaii said that a team at the base’s headquarters had reviewed the RFP process and found “errors.”

Base commander Capt. Stan Keeve is quoted in the statement saying that the base is dedicated to programs that are “safe, legal and meet appropriate standards” and to “fair competition.”

The statement said the base would offer “short-term no-fee concessions” to “several fitness companies” that competed under the contested RFP until the re-solicitation begins.

“We’re going to take advantage of that,” Landry said. “Our participants understand that this could be a short-term solution and that we would have to possibly move back out if we don’t get the long-term contract.”

“I understand the Navy has rules that they have to follow that aren’t necessarily dictated at the local level,” said Pope, who echoed the sentiment many other supporters have posted to online forums. “It’s frustrating and disappointing that such a bureaucratic process can rob somebody of their livelihood.”

olson.wyatt@stripes.com
 

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