MWR Rentals for Military FamiliesUpdated: March 26, 2021
Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (or MWR for short) is the agency responsible for support services for each branch of the U.S. military. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard all have their own MWR resources and the agency has come a long way from humble beginnings back in the early 1900s.
That’s when Congress authorized the U.S. Army to build recreational and support facilities for the troops including schools, base libraries, gyms, and rec centers.
Over the years the Army Morale Division (established in 1918) would be supplemented by the Army Motion Picture Service and the Library Service…all of these entities brought the advent of a precursor to MWR known as Special Services.
By World War Two, Special Services had opened Armed Forces Recreation Centers overseas, and the Department of Defense was well on its way toward establishing what we know today as Morale, Welfare, and Recreation.
Part of the MWR mission involves organizing events, activities, travel, and other pastimes for servicemembers and their families at home and overseas. But another important part of the MWR operations for each branch of service involves making rentals available for eligible users. Those can include equipment and vehicle rental, hotels, and much more.
MWR rentals for military families aren’t exactly a secret, but compared to more highly visible programs sometimes the rental options aren’t as highly visible. What can military families get from MWR in this area?
MWR Rentals For Military Families: Who Is Eligible
The first thing newcomers to MWR should keep in mind is that these facilities are found on military bases–you won’t find MWR offices open to the public “on the economy” or in the local community outside a military base or military operation. If you don’t have access to a military base or don’t qualify for access as either a military member, family member, escorted guest, etc. you won’t be able to use MWR rentals.
Eligible MWR patrons include those who are 18 and older and who are:
- Service Members
- Department of Defense Civilian Employees
- National Guard members
- Family Members for all the above
Types Of MWR Rentals
Each military base will have, where applicable, an MWR office where customers can apply to rent gear, equipment, facilities etc. Some of the most common rental opportunities include:
- Outdoor recreation equipment (varies depending on location, climate, etc.)
- Campsite rental / trailer rental
- RV parks
- Special access lodging such as Shades Of Green at Disney, etc.
- Vehicle rental
- Events and planning
There are also opportunities for rentals associated with the following, depending on location;
- Golf Courses
- Bowling Centers
- Auto Skills Centers, and Resorts
MWR offices and hours will be listed on the host base’s official site. You can also call the base operator where available to be connected to an MWR office.
Tips When Renting From MWR
In general, when renting from an MWR facility, you’ll want to keep three basics in mind. The first is that demand for rentals can be high, especially during PCS season and during good weather months.
If you are overseas, you’ll be competing with the rest of your fellow military families for the same limited set of rental resources–plan early, make backup plans in case the rentals you want are not available just then, and expect high demand for certain options.
What does this mean? In Northern Japan near places like Misawa Air Base, skiing is very popular–any ski-related rentals during the season are in high demand and you’ll want to get on any waiting list that might be available. The same is true of equipment rentals for any kind of snow-related outdoor adventuring.
Closer to home, the competition in some areas may be just as high but with far different demographics. You may find competition for stateside camping facilities higher than expected depending on location–in California where there is a substantial military community you may find the retiree population puts a high demand on certain camping or RV rental facilities.
In less populated areas or where there isn’t such a large military community you may have better luck getting easy access to certain MWR rental facilities such as campgrounds and RV parks.
Local Restrictions May Apply
Depending on the base, you may be able to rent outdoor recreation gear including boats, diving equipment, fishing gear, and more. However, state law, DoD regulations, or host nation laws may require certain types of rentals to be accompanied by training including safety courses, basic operation of certain equipment, etc.
Ask in advance if you are planning to rent anything with a motor, breathing tank, etc. to see if there are any required classes or waivers needed to facilitate your rental. Remember, all bases are different and what’s required or permitted at one installation may not be consistent with other policies at other bases.
Renting MWR Lodging
Demand is always high for certain types of recreational lodging–you’ll want to call ahead or email the facility well in advance of your plans to make sure facilities are available. Remember that weather and other variables can affect the availability of certain recreational areas such as RV parks or camp sites.
In California, wildfire season could complicate outdoor recreation plans, and in places like Texas–some subject to seasonal droughts and/or seasonal flooding–local conditions may be monitored on a daily or weekly basis to determine whether or not a particular site can remain open. Remember, some types of lodging put a lower priority on recreational lodging if PCS and TDY travel is high. Book in advance.
Cats And Dogs
One of the biggest variables for some traveling military families? Pets. The availability of pet-friendly lodging, RV parking, camping, etc. will vary dramatically depending on the location, time of year, and other factors. Do NOT assume pets are allowed at your rental destination and it’s never safe to assume local kenneling facilities are easy to access. Plan ahead, call far in advance, and make alternate arrangements for your pets just in case.
Popular MWR Rental Opportunities
Recreational travel is one of the most popular types of MWR rental–you can explore your options at any of these facilities including some of the least-well known options provided by the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard Recreational Lodging official site features opportunities to stay in Coast Guard facilities in a variety of locations:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Puerto Rico
Some better-known and definitely more high-demand options include:
- The U.S. Army’s Shades of Green Resort at Disney World in Orlando, Florida
- Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Area, Cape Fear, North Carolina. Features a lodge and beach cottages
- Seward Resort in Alaska
- Big Bear Recreation Facility is a Marine Corps operation located adjacent to ski resorts in Big Bear, California
- Hale Koa Hotel, Hawaii
- Kilauea Military Camp near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Lake of the Ozarks Recreation Area with lakefront cabins, motel rooms plus boat and Jet Ski rentals
- The New Sanno Hotel, Tokyo
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News