Play, resiliency, NERF

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Tabatha Zarrella and Airman 1st Class Michael Cossaboom, 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs photojournalists, participate in an office NERF battle Nov. 7, 2014, at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. Maintaining the social pillar of Comprehensive Airman Fitness while in a work setting ensures personal and professional success and resiliency of the Airmen in the public affairs office. CAF’s pillars of fitness include mental, physical, social, and spiritual. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jensen Stidham/Released)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Tabatha Zarrella and Airman 1st Class Michael Cossaboom, 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs photojournalists, participate in an office NERF battle Nov. 7, 2014, at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. Maintaining the social pillar of Comprehensive Airman Fitness while in a work setting ensures personal and professional success and resiliency of the Airmen in the public affairs office. CAF’s pillars of fitness include mental, physical, social, and spiritual. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jensen Stidham/Released)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Walk through the doors to the 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs office and you'll be greeted by displays of pride-in-work and creativity. A full candy dish welcomes customers, awards and family photos adorn desktops, and music is playing from several desks. Prominently displayed atop every Airman's station is a NERF gun.

That's right, a NERF gun. Neon, hard plastic vessels of childhood fun - or defeat - are armed 24/7 with a full magazine of foam bullets.

Ask any of the Airmen why we have the guns and you'll likely hear, the office motto of "It's AllForFreedom," or how it's good for office morale.

How can we professionally behave in such a manner that allows us to accomplish the mission successfully yet break out into foam battles once a week? How can these toys boost the morale in an official workplace of the U.S. Air Force?

The simple explanation is play breeds creativity, and creativity breeds resiliency. Public affairs Airmen are tasked daily to tell the Air Force story through articles, photographs and videos. We have to paint that picture for a mom and dad 3,000 miles away so they understand their child's career. That picture isn't black-and-white. Neither are NERF guns. 

Play is essential, not only to creativity, but for survival in adulthood. As Airmen are coming to the Air Force from high school or a young college-age, they are still accustomed to daily play. I'm not talking about recess, but living simply, freely and creatively.

The military is opposite. We are regimented, scheduled and uniform - obviously so and for good reason. We deal in a serious business, defending the nation is not for the faint-of- heart. Some units run together, have basketball tournaments, or cookouts to step away from the daily grind and relax together.

Building camaraderie happens not only in the field, thick in the job; it happens during coffee breaks, holiday meals and moving parties. Without forgetting customs and courtesies of traditional military culture, Airmen are able to build trusting friendships and are more apt to learn through the relaxed environment.

It's those friendships and bouts of fun that keep us engaged and not burnt-out from the grind. Our pillars of fitness are stronger for it.

In his book "Play," Stuart Brown, M.D., describes how the benefits of play as humans include becoming smarter, learning more about the world, and adapting to a changing world. "We are designed to be lifelong players, built to benefit from play at any age," he said.

I'm not saying that our office needs to adapt so strongly to play that our office begins to resemble the famous Google workplace model of slides, Lego break rooms and treadmill work stations. But it is essential that we remember to play, even if it's only in small details during daily routine, like assigning each office member a Transformer character on the re-call roster and having target practice with the NERF artillery.

Sure the office may seem cluttered to some people with all of our colorful decorations and thrift store finds, but at the end of the day I know the PA Airmen are going to be more receptive to feedback, take pride in their work, and are more resilient in the face of military and life obstacles.