My Coast Guard
Commentary | Nov. 4, 2021

Creating programs for innovation and morale of Coast Guard families

By Keisha Reynolds, MyCG Writer

The Coast Guard recently announced the 2020 winners of the service’s Morale, Well-Being, and Recreation (MWR) Unit Program of the Year Award. The intent of the award is to both showcase standout MWR programs while providing opportunities for units of all sizes, both ashore and afloat units, to improve their readiness, retention, and resiliency for Coast Guard families. Each unit’s award will be reinvested into their program. 

Fourteen recipients placed either first, second, or third from among 20 applicants. First place winners received $1,000; second place received $750, and third place winners, $500. Since there were four openings in two categories without submissions, the remaining funds were distributed amongst the units that did not originally place.

“We ultimately wanted to highlight the good work that all of the MWRs are doing,” said  Michael Criswell, a Coast Guard MWR specialist at the Community Services Command and one of the managers of the award program. “They all do a great job, we know that, and this is a way for them to be acknowledged and pat themselves on the back.”

The submissions were judged by a panel of Community Services Command and Personnel Services Center staff. For the first time since the award began in its current format in 2013, the submission package was standardized so that all submitters could provide content within identical categories, also used for evaluations. The criteria included: programming, customer service, marketing methods, leadership and professional development, financial management, facilities and improvement initiatives, recognition, additional reports, marketing samples and photos.

Base Kodiak is one of several units deserving of its first place award—theirs in the category of Large Unit Ashore. They won for 2020, and have also placed as first throughout previous years. 

“Under the direction of Rick Carman, their unit continuously wins and not for the same submission packet—they have such a good program and they constantly reinvent themselves,” said Criswell. In 2016, Base Kodiak MWR also won the Gold Medal award from the National Recreation and Parks Association after competing across all nominated recreation departments in the Armed Forces.

Base Kodiak’s MWR programs are a large undertaking, supporting more than 3,500 activity duty and dependents on the island, as well as, other authorized patrons who can use the programs and facilities. The MWR program also supports visiting cutters providing activities such as bowling or movie nights when crews pull in. The unit has a youth activity program, the largest of four that the Coast Guard has, along with a youth center that serves 10 to 17-year-olds and a Child Development Center (CDC) that supports more than 100 children. Through outstanding dedication and support of the staff, the CDC remained operational last year under strict COVID protocols providing vital child development support for dependents of mission essential personnel. 

Base Kodiak’s MWR programs and facilities are operated and staffed by a large team of approximately 80 Non-Appropriated Fund employees, 22 appropriated fund civilian employees, and 18 military members. Rick Carman, Base Kodiak’s MWR director, credits his team for “out-of-the-box thinking” to keep their services engaging and operational in 2020, especially during a COVID-restricted programming environment, recognizing they are a major source of connection for Coast Guard families. 

“We are so isolated,” explained Carman. “We operate on an island in the Gulf of Alaska and are very remote because we are 250 miles away from the mainland so MWR tends to be the major source of recreational opportunities for patrons on the base. Just having people engaged in activities is important for physical and mental health especially given the environmental and climate-related challenges of being this far North.”

Carman explained his team’s most recent and award-winning programming proudly stating that, “during 2020, our crew really stepped up.” The Youth Center usually serves an upward of 30 kids per day, however when COVID protocols curtailed in-person gatherings, Youth Center staff were able to quickly pivot their offerings to a virtual format. The staff put together STEM program kits and prepared activities and materials that they hand-delivered to the doors of their youth. Then the staff met with the group virtually to assemble the projects. The staff followed a similar model for cooking classes and other activities. 

Although there were platform capacity limits on how many children some virtual programs could accommodate, the staff added more events like the Netflix parties hosted online, which provided additional opportunities and the capacity to accommodate more children—even from families that have moved away due to transfer. Former members of the youth center program enjoyed reconnecting, watching movies, and participating in activities with their friends. All in all, Carman stated that the team delivered 579 STEM kits to base youth this past year, over multiple projects.

Audibly humbled, Carman spoke about his unit’s receipt of the 2020 Morale Well-Being and Recreation Unit Program of the Year Award. “It’s a validation of the work that we’re doing and the impact that our staff and programs are having, especially when COVID protocols prevented staff from meeting and sharing successes,” said Carman. “We’ve also been very lucky to have commands who support the MWR mission and invest heavily in our programs. That’s huge to have that backing and support.” 

For a comprehensive look at all MWR unit winners, review the Coast Guard MWR Unit Program of the Year Award Winners ALCGPSC 113/21.