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Raquel Cruz, a fitness assistant intern at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Fleet Fitness Center at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, reminds Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Belt to maintain a safe and proper form while lifting weights.
Raquel Cruz, a fitness assistant intern at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Fleet Fitness Center at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, reminds Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Belt to maintain a safe and proper form while lifting weights. (Greg Tyler / S&S)

While most of her fellow Arizona State University students are working low-level intern jobs close to home, Raquel Cruz is at Sasebo Naval Base experiencing Japan, designing programs in her career specialty and developing a potential new career path.

Cruz, one of about 30 Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation interns working at overseas Navy bases this spring, also is giving plenty back. She has served as a personal trainer, created a circuit-training class and designed the base’s “Biggest Loser” weight-loss competition.

The Navy’s intern program brings college students to bases for 12 to 16 weeks, putting their experience and knowledge to work in base communities.

The interns “make a great short-term impact on MWR programs,” said Steve Motchnik, MWR director for Naval Air Facility Atsugi. The internship also introduces talented people to MWR career fields, helping the Navy attract the best and brightest.

“That’s a definite benefit of the program, because every intern we’ve had here has made a high-quality impression,” he said.

The program gives students work experience and a chance to learn about federal employment and interact with servicemembers and their families, said Andrea Moss, Navy MWR Intern Program assistant in Millington, Tenn., where the program is administered.

Between 60 and 100 people a year work overseas on Navy bases as interns — as many as half of them in Japan. Others do internships at Navy bases in the States.

“They bring over a lot of ideas from the States. It helps our people, too,” said Tina Sparks, Sasebo’s director of youth services, who is supervising two people this spring.

The interns come straight from university classrooms and infuse local staff members with the latest ideas and innovations, she said.

At Sasebo, youth services interns plan and develop the summer camp and other programs.

“The two I have now, they’ve set up the whole 10 weeks of camp,” Sparks said.

The summer group at Sasebo will run the camp and fill in during the peak summer vacation season, relieving pressure on regular staff, Sparks said.

The Navy offers three internship periods — spring, summer and fall — in one of nine MWR fields: aquatics, child care and development, food and beverage management, fleet recreation, leisure travel, outdoor recreation, sports and fitness, teen/youth activities, and young adult recreation. The spring group finishes up this week.

Along with gaining experience in their field, the interns do supervisory work, learning about budgets, personnel management and administration.

The program also helps the Navy with recruitment. Although her father was in the Air Force, Cruz didn’t know there were civilian positions in her field working for the military.

Cruz said her professor believes she is having the most meaningful internship of any of her fellow students back home.

“I’ve learned so much,” Cruz said. “More people need to know about this. This is by far the most exciting and unique opportunity for interns I’ve seen.”

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