Bases hope added activities keep troops from mischief
December 29, 2002
Officials in the Pacific are counting on a “Field of Dreams” concept to help keep servicemembers from abusing alcohol and misbehaving off base.
“Offer it, and they will come,” seems to be the idea behind efforts to organize more on-base options.
Officials theorize that with enough to do on or via the installations, going off base and drinking in excess becomes less attractive.
At Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, one example is the Morale, Welfare and Recreation department’s REAL program, which stands for Recreational Education and Leisure.
The program gives younger sailors alternatives to spending their time in a bar. Once a month, commands can nominate sailors to participate in the program, which operates as a weeklong course in alternative activities both on and off base.
Among the activities are rock-climbing lessons, SCUBA classes, bike tours, golf and skeet shooting.
Each REAL class has room for about 20 sailors; part of their agreement is to take back what they’ve learned and share it with others in their command or ship.
“It’s pretty easy to get sucked into going to the Honch or Roppongi every weekend,” said Airman Chester Bobak, from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, referring to two popular nightspots near the Yokosuka base.
“This teaches you how to find different ways to spend your free time. The opportunities are there, this helps you to find them,” said Bobak, who participated in the class earlier this year.
The Navy officially adopted the program earlier this year. Recreation directors from Navy bases as far away as Bahrain and Naples came to Yokosuka and learned how to set up their own programs.
At Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan, officials hope that extending the hours of some facilities, and creating new opportunities at others, will keep sailors out of mischief.
“The idea is to give our sailors an opportunity to engage in other interesting activities besides drinking,” said Chief Petty Officer Brian Davis, Sasebo Naval Base’s Drug and Alcohol Prevention Program coordinator. “Sometimes people will sit around and drink just because there isn’t anything better to do.”
Sasebo is a small base with a population of only about 5,000 people. It’s split between the main base, which has limited housing capacity, and the Hario Housing Village, where a large number of the base’s families reside. Many unaccompanied sailors live on the ships berthed in the main base’s India Basin, where after-hours entertainment is quite limited.
Davis and other officials reason that sailors may choose to stay on base after hours if adequate entertainment options exist. Sasebo’s MWR is looking to expand and enhance what is already available, according to Allison Foo, marketing director.
The top benefit of providing a wide range of activities is “keeping them on our base,” she added. And the goal is to manage behavior, not to create a teetotaler population.
“If they are in our facilities … our employees are trained as far as how much alcohol can be served, which is only one drink at any given time, and to stop service to anyone that appears to be … drunk. And if there is trouble, we can get security there immediately,” Foo said.
The following are examples of some of the Sasebo MWR offerings designed in part to keep sailors active and entertained either on base, or by way of a base-sponsored activity:
• Late-night food: The Galaxies Club offers food service from 1 to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.• Midnight Madness: At least twice a month, Midnight Madness, a late-night sports tournament, features various sports.• Midnight movies: Main Base’s Showboat Theater offers 25-cent movies at midnight Fridays and Saturdays.• Live entertainment: Each month MWR brings live entertainment to the Galaxies Club as part of Japan Jams, a regional program which routes entertainment to U.S. Navy bases. Usually, each month the club features a band and a comedy show. On occasion, special appearances are made by bodybuilders, bowling and billiards professionals.• Tours: More overnight tours are being planned by MWR’s Ticket and Tours Office. Sailors can even charter a bus to a special locations for custom tours. More sports-related tours and concert trips are planned.
Marine Corps and Air Force officials in Okinawa said they offer hundreds of nonalcohol-related events each month to their members.
Kadena’s 18th Services Squadron and Camp Foster’s Marine Corps Community Services each month publish a wide variety of tours, shows and special events around the island that provide alternatives to drinking alcohol. The tours also allow servicemembers to immerse themselves in the local culture.
These off-duty activities complement a host of other base services such as fitness centers, crafts and skills centers, libraries and community centers that exist to promote quality of life without promoting alcohol.
In Korea, Morale, Welfare and Recreation officials strive to keep soldiers in the gates and out of trouble, local officials said.
But soldiers will head off base if they can’t find quality entertainment, facilities and service inside the gates.
Jerome J. Konieczny, Korea Region Office MWR director, said MWR realized it needed to invest in the bases. He said MWR is looking at more than $100 million in upgrades and renovations through fiscal 2005. Everything from clubs to fitness centers to Astroturf sports fields.
“We’re trying to get the soldiers what they’re interested in,” said Konieczny.
But no matter what the bases make available, some servicemembers will find their way into trouble, one Navy veteran said.
“It doesn’t matter; they’ll go to the bars anyway. It’s just a fact of life,” said Ernest Perez, a 12-year veteran who left the Navy as a petty officer first class, and works as a civilian at Sasebo Naval Base.
“They are young, and overseas, and they want to chase girls and drink,” he added.
— Carlos Bongioanni and T.D. Flack contributed to this report.