Single Service Member Programs Promote Camaraderie, Resilience
WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2013 – Drive around any military installation, and along with barracks buildings and training facilities, you’ll see family housing, child development centers, schools, and signs publicizing family-centric activities.
Gone are the days when the old joke that “if the military wanted you to have a family, it would have issued you one” held more than a grain of truth.
The Defense Department has reoriented many of its programs to married service members and their family members, recognizing families’ role in their decisions to serve and their ability to perform their missions. But to ensure that single service members don’t get lost in the fray, each service has morale, welfare and recreation programs dedicated specifically to their needs and interests.
The Army rolled out the first program, Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers or BOSS, in 1989. The Navy launched its Liberty Program, and the Marine Corps, the Single Marine Program. The Air Force introduced the newest program, the Single Airman Initiative, in October 2011.
Despite their different names, the programs’ goals are the same: to connect and build camaraderie among single service members, many in the 18- to 25-year-old age group and serving their first enlistments, Ed Miles, the Defense Department’s MWR policy chief, told American Forces Press Service.
“The whole point is to provide constructive activities tailored to this specific group and their needs,” Miles said. “It’s about getting them out of their dormitory rooms, bringing them together in positive ways and helping build a sense of camaraderie.”
Esprit de corps is a huge issue for the military, Miles added. “The goal is to develop trust and create a sense of family that makes people want to look out for their buddy and take care of one another,” he said. “And the single service member programs encourage that.”
The Army initially introduced its BOSS program to address barracks issues and other quality-of-life issues, Army Sgt. Adam Hughes, who oversees the program, reported. “Over the years, it morphed into a community-service and recreational outlet for single soldiers,” he said.
Today, BOSS is based on three pillars: quality-of-life issues, recreational and leadership events, and community service, Hughes explained. All work together to support an estimated 270,000 single soldiers who make up about 56 percent of the Army.
BOSS continues to provide a forum for single service members to communicate with senior leaders about problems that need fixing, Hughes said. And whether the participants are skydiving, taking part in a paintball competition or volunteering at a local soup kitchen, BOSS also promotes positive values and mentorship within the ranks and helps single soldiers connect with each other and their communities, he said.
With about one-third of the Navy single and between ages 18 and 25, the Navy leadership puts big emphasis on the Single Sailor Liberty Program, Lorraine Seidel, the Navy’s recreation program manager, reported.
Liberty centers on most major bases offer free use of computers and Internet access, state-of-the-art video game systems, movies and TV viewing rooms, book collections and special events.
Each base’s programs are different, but many offer trips and tours to sporting events, outdoor adventures, shopping, amusement parks, deep-sea fishing and community events.
These programs are vital to many junior sailors, some experiencing their first time away from home, Seidel said. “It might be their first duty station. They might not have transportation. They may not have that network of support they would normally have,” she said. “So the Liberty program is very important in connecting them with social experiences, cultural experiences and outlets for self-expression in ways that offer fun and adventure.”
The Single Marine Program includes activities and events that officials say is varied as the single Marines the program serves.
In addition to social and recreational activities, Marines in the program contribute tens of thousands of community service hours every year to programs such as the Habitat for Humanity, Adopt a School and Toys for Tots programs, and they take part in local beach cleanups and visits to homes for veterans. They also organize on-base initiatives, from voter registration drives and personal financial management seminars to classes on healthy lifestyles.
Following the lead of its sister services, the Air Force introduced the Single Airman Initiative two years ago for single airmen, who make up about 40 percent of the Air Force population. The program has taken off, and single airmen around the world have flocked to it to participate in events such as whitewater rafting, skydiving, ziplining and jet packing, Terra Erb, who manages the program for the Air Force Services Directorate, reported.
“It has been a success since we began,” she said. “It is building a sense of community for the airmen who look forward to the occasions when they can go out with their fellow single airmen and enjoy adventures together.”
The greatest measure of success, Erb said, is when airmen come back from an event and quickly sign up for another. “They have made new friendships and have a new sense of belonging,” she said. “To me, that is the root benefit of this program.”
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard Rhodes, chief enlisted manager for Air Force Services, called these connections a big factor in increasing resilience within the force.
“When you are able to build relationships and you know that your wingman will there for you, you feel comfortable talking about issues or problems that arise with those people you spend time with,” he said. “Being able to develop those types of relationships enhances resiliency, and that contributes to mission readiness.”
As the Air Force matures its Single Airmen Initiative, the Army is preparing to commemorate the BOSS program’s 25th anniversary this year.
Plans call for the Army to roll out a BOSS 2020 initiative to increase understanding about the program and its impact on readiness. “Our big push is to enable the senior mission commanders to understand how the BOSS programs fits into their unit mission as well as the garrison mission,” Hughes said.
Meanwhile, Hughes said, the program needs to stay in step with what single service members want and need. “We are really engaging soldiers to find out what they want, because as we go through budgetary [decisions], we need to make sure every dime we spend is well spent,” he said.
Looking to the future, Hughes emphasized the need to continue building on progress made within single service member programs.
“We want to ensure that it is an enduring program. We can’t lose traction,” he said. “By engaging the senior mission commanders and showing them that this needs to be part of their sustainment model, we believe that that is the way ahead.”