"Customer-First" Attitudes

When it comes to delivering sports, fitness and aquatics activities to soldiers and their families, the Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation (FMWR) staff at Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia is the best in the Southeast region of the U.S. Army’s Installation Management Command.

But managers and staff aren’t resting on their laurels. They’re too busy staying on top of the always-demanding, sometimes rapidly changing recreational needs of the present, while planning for the future--all with an attentive, responsive ear to customers’ needs.

Stewart-Hunter was named Outstanding Sports, Fitness and Aquatics Program for the Southeast region based on the installation’s extensive renovation and upgrading of swimming and fitness facilities, coupled with providing programs and personal touches that meet the needs and add to the comfort of their customers.

Some examples:

A $2.8-million renovation project added about 10,000 square feet to Newman Fitness Center on Fort Stewart, allowing for an aerobics room and an additional weight room. The indoor pool at Newman also was renovated.

Hunter’s Tominac Fitness Center, built in 2007, added and improved programs and events to complement its new facility. A fun-filled, cardboard-boat regatta attracted post-sponsored Boy Scout troop members and Child, Youth and School Services youth among its competitors. A Zumba class became an instant favorite, and belly-dancing classes proved so popular that provisions had to be made to accommodate more participants. The outdoor pools at Bryan Village and Corkan Family Fun Center on Fort Stewart were renovated to ease access for the physically challenged.

Spare No Expense

Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield offer adult intramural sports, including softball, flag football, soccer, volleyball, track and field, tennis, golf, basketball and racquetball. They also field a team for the annual Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C., and present the Rock of the Marne marathon on Fort Stewart. Depending on deployments, sports staffers can be working with as few as 20 teams or as many as 100.The sports staff organizes and supports intramurals from registration all the way to installation championship competitions.

FMWR Recreation Chief Larry Cutchens says customer needs and wishes are at the heart of building plans, renovations, and new and current programs, which are adjusted by comparing the services here to services found outside the gates.

“We benchmark against the commercial sector and the military sector to see what the top-of-the-line, the state-of-the-art is,” Cutchens says. “We go after the best equipment [and] the best facilities that money can buy. We try to hire the best recreation specialist people, the best fitness people that we can get.”

He adds, “Our managers are always researching [and] talking to people to see what we can do to make our facilities better. We want the soldiers and the family members to have the best facility there is on the market. They deserve it, so we should strive to give it to them.”

Cutchens praises staff, “who are in place to manage those programs and activities. They meet and greet the soldiers and the family members, and they know best what we need to do to give our soldiers and their families the best that money can buy.”

Feedback Matters

Interactive Customer Evaluation (ICE), a system used throughout the Army, is a key source employed in finding out what customers like or don’t like.

“We use that a lot,” Cutchens says, “because [soldiers and families] are our customers, and they are coming into our facilities every day. They know what they want, what works well. We read those ICE comments, and try to respond within 24 hours.”

He says the personal, day-to-day contact that managers and staff have with customers also helps in determining whether the facilities are meeting the needs of soldiers and their families.

Beyond The Workout

Attractions at Newman and Tominac fitness centers include child care, aerobics and aquatics programs (including water aerobics and scuba-diving lessons), the latest in equipment and availability of certified personal trainers.

Smooth Operator juice bars, stocked with nutritional energy drinks and other refreshments, are popular in both fitness centers. Informational kiosks, where customers can input their ICE comments or find out about various activities or programs with the push of a button, also are popular.

Newman Fitness Center director Jake Battle says he hears positive feedback about the variety of equipment and programs at Newman. “It helps to have more machines so they can have more variety in their workouts, and it gives them more flexibility in their workouts,” Battle says. “Aerobics is one of the major family support programs here at Fort Stewart.”

The juice bar area at Newman is very popular as well, Battle says. “You have the Wi-Fi system in here, and they can bring their laptops and sit at the tables and work on their computers while they have a cup of Starbucks coffee, or have a protein drink and relax. In between their workouts, they can refuel, get their protein. It is readily available for them, and it is convenient.”

Cutchens says expanding the child-care area was one of the “best changes” made at Newman. Child-care also is an important service at the Hunter facility.

The Stewart-Hunter recreation system managers and staff pay close attention to evolving customer needs, Cutchens says. That’s where the Recreation Delivery Team comes in.

The team is composed of recreation specialist programmers from different areas of MWR--Army Community Service, Child, Youth & School Services, business, special events and recreation.

“We work as a team instead of individually,” Cutchens says. “It [the team] puts our experts together once a week to go over the programming in MWR, and see if the programs are popular, if soldiers and their families are participating in them, and whether they need to change. That’s what it is all about.

“It’s a constant revolving door to see what programs are popular. And we track them. The team works with an 18-month calendar, so it tries to stay ahead in the program. That’s the way we can revisit a program to see if it’s hitting the target market. If it’s not, we can go back to the drawing board.”

On The Horizon

What’s ahead for Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield? Cutchens cites three projects:

· A 65,000-square-foot physical fitness center with indoor pool, to be constructed during FY 2009 in support of Grow the Army for the new brigade being created on the installation. The center is located about four miles from the main cantonment area on Fort Stewart.

· A complete renovation and new equipment for Caro Fitness Center on Fort Stewart

· Work on the outdoor sports fields, with the turf, the fencing and the scoreboards, “to get those fields back up to a high standard. We’d like to have all those amenities, and that’s next on our priority list,” Cutchens says.

Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield Sports Director Perry Yawn told a story that points to the personal satisfaction MWR staffers receive in serving the soldiers. He described how a sergeant who had just returned from Iraq came to the sports office the very next day to find out what he had to do to resume the coaching duties he performed before deployment.

“Here is someone who has been fighting for his country,” Yawn says, “and the first thing he does the next day after he comes back home is to come to see you about the sports. That speaks … that speaks to how he really appreciated that program.”

Bob Mathews, who retired after 30 years as a newspaper editor and writer, joined the Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation in July 2008, and became a MWR Marketing Publicity Specialist.