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Off-Duty Resilience: Reorienting Tourism, Leisure, and Recreation in the US Army BOSS Program
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Off-Duty Resilience:
Reorienting Tourism, Leisure, and Recreation in the US Army BOSS Program

Work Hard, Play Hard: BOSS and the Rebranding of Tourism, Recreation, and Leisure

Military leaders have always understood that success on the battlefield requires the provision of recreation, relaxation, and leisure for active-duty soldiers. Certainly this includes moments of “down time” during tours of duty overseas (e.g., video games, fitness training, poker), but it also includes structured leave—or R&R—where soldiers depart from the battlefield for a relaxing vacation, an adventure holiday, or more recently, a short visit home. Critical examinations of R&R show how the off-duty time of soldiers is shaped by prevailing discourses of race, gender, class, and sexuality that are not that far removed from similar discourses operating on battlefields.1 In other words, the modes of differentiation enabling soldiers to demonize and kill enemies on the battlefield are translated through a tourist gaze enabling soldiers to exploit feminized, sexualized, and racially subservient others off the battlefield (e.g., hosts, guides, servants, cleaners, lovers, prostitutes). Indeed, the work of Cynthia Enloe clearly demonstrates that militarism, tourism, patriarchy, and racism have a long and entangled history.2 The present essay builds on those insights by critically examining how the US Army is assimilating tourism, leisure, and recreational practices within its force-wide Ready and Resilient campaign (R2), and seeks to show how this process constructs resilient soldiers against disengaged, vulnerable, abject, exotic, and servile others. The R2 campaign builds the “mental, physical, emotional, behavioral and spiritual resilience” of US Army forces to help them perform well in “environments of uncertainty and persistent danger.”3 To embed readiness and resilience across the “Total Army” (i.e., soldiers as well as their families and associated civilians), the US Army has developed comprehensive training programs to produce the “Total [End Page 747] Soldier.” These include increasing self-awareness and mindfulness, deterring high-risk behaviors, supporting healthy alternatives, encouraging leadership and initiative, and helping all soldiers “overcome setbacks, recover and grow from adversities and thrive on a sustained basis.”4 Part of this culture shift is transforming the familiar (and often violent, sexist, and racist) logics through which US soldiers have traditionally engaged with local populations outside US bases. Indeed, R2 helps the army reshape the off-duty military tourism that had caused so much bad press in previous decades (e.g., high-profile rape cases, militarized prostitution, racially motivated violence). What interests me is how the US Army’s supposedly ethical response to previous “bad behavior” (i.e., the R2 agenda) produces its own logics of asymmetry, hierarchy, and exclusion—many of which are enacted through the unexpected and often hidden practices of tourism, leisure, and recreation.

To explore the role of off-duty time in the construction of resilience, this essay focuses on the US Army’s Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) program, which organizes officially sanctioned opportunities for tourism, leisure, and recreation both on and off military bases in the United States and abroad. The BOSS program was created in 1995 to “enhance the morale and welfare of single soldiers, increase retention and sustain combat readiness.”5 It is institutionally part of the army’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Programs (MWR) and organized around three platforms. The first, Quality of Life, aims to increase the well-being of all the army’s soldiers. It was initially envisioned as a forum for troops to address any difficulties with their living arrangements (e.g., dilapidated barracks, broken equipment), but very quickly soldiers pushed for well-being to include personal growth and career development. As a result, BOSS’s Quality of Life platform is now much more focused on cultivating leadership and providing life skills and career training across all ranks. The second BOSS platform, Community Service, includes volunteer and charity activities in local communities around Army bases worldwide. Community service has been central to the army’s efforts to repair relations with local communities damaged by high-profile cases of rape, harassment, and violence, and BOSS soldiers are strongly encouraged to participate in “community programs or projects that make a difference in the lives of...