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Serving those who serve

Navy MWR director focuses on caring for military members and the people they rely on

By Ryan Labadens

Service is one of the defining merits associated with military men and women. Those in the Armed Forces often hear, “Thank you for your service,” from people voicing their appreciation.

For Deborah Brockway, Morale, Welfare and Recreation director at Naval Construction Battalion Center, Gulfport, serving those who serve — and taking care of the people who serve them, namely her fellow MWR workers — has been a part of her management philosophy since she took on supervisory and director roles at Navy MWR facilities.

Brockway landed her first MWR job in 1998, working as the snack bar supervisor at the bowling alley onboard Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington. During her 14 years there, Brockway eventually worked her way up into other MWR management positions, working in the Chief Petty Officers Club, then becoming the business activities manager — overseeing MWR facilities such as the marina, veterinary clinic, flying club, bowling alley, golf course and movie theater.

She gained much of the experience for those various roles on the job.

“You kind of had to jump in with both feet, and you had to learn what was going on with them because you needed to understand the terminology for those positions,” Brockway says.

She adds that communication with the subject-matter experts in those programs was key in understanding their operations, their terminology and how to help them run smoothly.

“You were never going to have the respect of the staff if you couldn’t speak the same language they do,” Brockway says. “While MWR is a big family, every facility has its own language. Talking to people at the flying club and talking to people in the vet clinic, you’re talking about two completely different things, so you really had to embrace it all and humble yourself to learn what you could from the subject-matter experts in those programs.”

Brockway credits several mentors who nurtured her in her MWR career. One was Kathy Schallot, who had worked her way up from a bartender position with MWR at Whidbey Island to become fleet and family readiness director for the Pacific Northwest region.

“She definitely instilled in me the work ethic and concept of the reason why we’re here,” Brockway says. “We’re here to serve the service members. What we do isn’t for us; it’s for them.”

Her last MWR director at Whidbey Island, Tom Jones, shared his work philosophy with his employees — a list of five principles Brockway has adopted.

“The No. 1 thing was ‘Take care of the people’ — that’s the customer — and then the second thing was ‘Take care of the people who take care of the people’; that (means) taking care of our staff because without our staff, we can’t operate,” Brockway says. “The third thing on his list was ‘Do the basics well.’ The fourth one is ‘financial accountability,’ and the fifth one is “continuous improvement.’”

She seeks to instill those principles in the other MWR supervisors and workers at NCBC to inspire them to provide the best customer service possible, especially given the challenges caused by COVID-19.

“Every day, we come to work, and we try to do the right thing,” Brockway says, noting that this wasn’t always easy, but something she strives for and wants to continue imparting to her workers. “That’s what we do every day; we come to work, try to do the right thing, move forward and do the best we can.”

Ryan Labadens is assistant public affairs officer with Naval Construction Battalion Center, Gulfport.

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