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By Tech. Sgt. Brigette Waltermire
137th Special Operations Wing
Airmen, families and friends encountered lions, tigers and bears during the 137th Special Operations Wing “Zoo After Dark” event held Sept. 8, 2023, at the Oklahoma City Zoo.
Around 1,300 people went where the wild things are during the Airman and Family Readiness (AFR) office event, made possible using Preservation of the Force and Family (POTFF) funding.
“Most of our (POTFF) events are held at the unit or squadron level, and sometimes at a group level, with 100 to 200 people,” said Jim Beaty, Air Force Special Operations Command community support program manager. “What is unique about this event is the size, with much of the success because of (the AFR program manager) Tracy Poindexter and how she has advertised it, worked with the community for partnerships and made so many resources available.”
The mission of the POTFF is to optimize and sustain Special Operations Forces mission readiness, longevity, and performance through integrated and holistic human performance programs designed to strengthen the force and family. The 137th Airman and Family Readiness program applied for the funds in 2021 and held the first “Zoo After Dark” event in August last year.
“We have asked our Airmen how we can do better at helping build connections with their workplaces and families, and this is one of the ways we are trying to apply that feedback,” said Col. Shelby Dreyer, 137th SOW deputy commander. “Having this event off of base allows our Airmen to spend time with their families away from their workspaces and puts the emphasis on experiencing that time together.”
Have you ever seen an elephant fly? Sadly the Asian elephants at the zoo did not have ears as big as Dumbo, but the evening was filled with activities, including an elephant demonstration, a dance performance celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and a scavenger hunt that took participants to resource vendors and animal exhibits.
“This event gives us the opportunity to show our families the resources the Airman and Family Readiness office has to help them, but it also allows family and friends to be brought closer into our Guard family,” said Dreyer. “It also allows us to bring our Airmen into the community for an event that appeals to any age and family structure without the burden of cost being on them or the unit.”
One of the five POTFF domains includes family cohesion as a component. Special operations can include frequent separations that involve sensitive, high-risk and secretive missions, which places a unique hardship on the families of operators. Creating opportunities to forge stronger bonds while home is the main focus of the funding.
“The POTFF program across the board is a readiness program, but it’s also a resiliency program, and we use those funds to help Airmen do their part for the mission in the most impactful way while also connecting them to better understand the importance of the roles everyone plays,” said Beaty. “We truly believe that by optimizing an individual’s performance, they will put that back into their work which will help with mission success.”
Beaty also noted that the timing of the event was very unique compared to active-duty events because it was held over a training weekend. Guardsmen meet one weekend each month to maintain their readiness and training, so timing the event to coincide with the training weekend meant members could also bring their families.
“Most Guard families are not co-located geographically with the base, so if they are coming to the event from three hours away, they are able to network with someone who might be able to help them connect them to the unit as well,” said Beaty.
While the event is a chance to connect with family in the local community, one thing is certain: taking time for families to have Hakuna Matata ain’t no passin’ craze for the wing.