Work hard, play smart

  • Published
  • By Col. Roderick Gillis
  • 71st Flying Training Wing
After seven alcohol related incidents since the beginning of 2007, I sat down to pen an article on responsible behavior. As I conducted my research about how over the years binge drinking has become prevalent in our high schools and colleges, I discovered this article by the 66th Air Base Wing Commander, Col Schluckebier:

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. - "Work hard, play hard" - it's a phrase we've all heard and many Air Force organizations use it as an informal motto. The phrase communicates the notion that we are intensely committed to doing what it takes to get the mission done, but we're not one-dimensional, mission-only people - we approach off-duty endeavors with the same zest and passion we demonstrate on duty. The problem is that somewhere along the way, some folks started using "work hard, play hard" to rationalize clearly destructive behavior like alcohol misuse, illicit drug use, tobacco use, fitness deficiencies (such as a lack of proper diet and exercise) and failure to follow safety and injury prevention guidelines. In other words, we began to believe that working hard entitled us to stretch the limits of acceptable behavior when we weren't working. While the "work hard, play hard" mentality needs to change, it's a bit simplistic to blame destructive behavior on a phrase or motto. It's probably more accurate to point to the fact that the Air Force is a reflection of our society, and we do see an abundance of destructive behavior there, particularly in the 18 to 24 year-old age bracket. Statistically, 43 percent of college students (ages 18 to 24) can be classified as binge drinkers (five or more drinks in one sitting at least once in the past two weeks); 21 percent are frequent binge drinkers (5 or more drinks in one sitting at least three times in the past two weeks); and 31 percent meet criteria for a substance abuse diagnosis. Air Force statistics are equally troubling and the population most at risk comprises junior Airmen, ages 17 to 24. While comprising only one-third of the total active duty Air Force, they account for 81 percent of the Air Force's alcohol-related incidents. The Air Force averages 5,300 alcohol-related incidents each year. Irresponsible drinking is a factor in 33 percent of suicides, 57 percent of sexual assaults, 29 percent of domestic violence cases and 44 percent of Class A (fatal) motor vehicle accidents. This isn't "working hard, playing hard," it's "working hard, playing recklessly." The Air Force has launched a campaign to establish a Culture of Responsible Choices - a way to transition from "work hard, play hard" to "work hard, play smart." The program was launched last year as a means of encouraging each of us to make responsible decisions. The Culture of Responsible Choices Web page, located at, contains the statistics cited above, as well as a wealth of additional information that will help transform our culture from "work hard, play hard" to "work hard, play smart." There is no shortage of literature and guidance on the Culture of Responsible Choices campaign. The real power of cultural change lies in the individual Airman who makes responsible decisions by weighing risks and benefits and takes action to ensure we all play smart so we can continue to serve with honor and reflect positively on our great Air Force. While statistics show that our junior members are most at risk, destructive behavior isn't limited to a single age group or rank. Commanders, leaders, supervisors and mentors all play a vital role in creating an environment where "work hard, play smart" becomes the new culture.