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Advocates of Single Marines share ideas, plan improvements to program

By Sgt. M. Trent Lowry | | September 18, 2003

Senior enlisted advisors, civilian coordinators and Marine and sailor representatives of Single Marine Program activities from 10 Marine Corps installations met Sept. 8-12 at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., for the West Coast SMP Regional Conference.

The servicemembers and civilian representatives shared ideas and discussed ways of improving the quality of life of single Marines and sailors across the Corps. While the sunny shores of Pendleton's Del Mar beach provided an attractive, relaxing backdrop for the conference -- which included representation from Marine bases in Japan, Hawaii, California and Arizona -- those present were serious about adopting successful ideas from their peers and developing a plan of action that would make the SMP an even more fruitful program for junior enlisted servicemembers.

"The purpose of the conference is for the bases to network and generate ideas and resources for their local SMP programming," said Evonne Carawan, Single Marine Program manager at Headquarters, Marine Corps' Personal and Family Readiness Division in Quantico, Va.

Each of the Marines, sailors and civilians present at the conference had one thing in common: a dedication to the mission of providing opportunities for a servicemember population base that is mostly young -- between the ages of 18 and 26 -- and unmarried, though personnel of different ages and marital status are still welcome to attend many of the events.

The regional conference was one of two conferences scheduled for this year. A second conference is planned for Sept. 22-26 at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., for representatives of East Coast commands.

"The ability to bring more representatives to the regional conferences, as opposed to meeting at one place for a worldwide conference, is the best benefit of the regional plan," Carawan said. "I think we have a great level of participation, but I'd love to have more representatives be able to attend, and it would be great to have as many sergeants major as possible, too."

The reason more representatives are welcome is because the officers and unit representatives of SMPs at various installations have the ear of the beneficiaries of the SMP: the Marines. The responsibility each representative owes their constituents is a motivating factor in trying to create a program tailored to the Marines.

"It makes me think twice about the decisions I make, knowing the junior Marines are watching me and knowing what I do will affect them," said Cpl. Misty Hendrickson, a reserve aircraft rescue firefighter with Marine Wing Support Squadron-473, who is also the president of the SMP at Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar, Calif.

Since each of the installations' SMPs plan events structured by the varying needs of the different environments in which the bases and stations are set, there were a lot of ideas that the SMP members picked up on to take back with them and utilize at their home bases.

"I really like the interaction between the SMP members," said Hendrickson. "We can learn more from other people than just having meetings on our own. We get contacts and ideas to help us all meet our goals."

One tactic employed at the conference was to take a look at what activities planners at universities do with their students, since the students are in the same age levels as a majority of the SMP's target audience.

"The variety of activities is endless. Throughout the Marine Corps we're trying to meet the needs of all single servicemembers," Carawan said.

The conference attendees focused on how to improve the participation of junior Marines and how to introduce the five pillars of the SMP Ñ recreation, community involvement, quality of life, career progression and education Ñ into the programming of SMP activities. They also discussed how to overcome some of the other challenges facing the SMP.

"One of my main missions when I get back is to let the leaders know more about the important things the SMP does: addressing the recreation, community involvement and quality of life issues of the Marines," said Sgt. Maj. Brian Lindstrom, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma sergeant major and senior enlisted advisor for the SMP at Yuma. "The exchange of ideas of all the different things the SMP can do were on track, but more involvement from all levels is needed."

Also discussed at the conference were different ways of increasing participation of Marines and implementing new programs that will keep the spirit of the SMP as youthful and positive as its target clientele.

"The face of the SMP is changing. We have become more motivated in reaching the masses of Marines and inviting them to be more active on base and in the community," Hendrickson said.

"The intent of the SMP is to address the quality of life of the whole Marine, not just certain aspects, like recreation or community involvement," Carawan said. "We're trying to help the Marines be the best servicemembers and the best citizens they can be."

Overall, those in attendance were pleased by the productivity that came from the meeting of the minds and happy to get the chance to share ideas and camaraderie with others working toward the same goal: better opportunities for Marines.

"Overall it was very good, specifically the interaction with the sergeant major and coordinators in developing strategic plans for the upcoming year," Hendrickson said.

Carawan will preside over the East Coast regional conference next week, along with Sgt. Maj. Ronnie Edwards, sergeant major of Personal and Family Readiness Division, Headquarters Marine Corps. They will compile the results of both conferences and use them as a guideline for any changes that may help improve the program.

Begun in 1995 to address the needs of the more than 55 percent of the Marine Corps that is single, the SMP has grown to include participation at 18 Marine Corps installations.

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