From Jammers to Warhammers: Vance personnel find 'whole personhood' in various places

  • Published
  • By David Poe
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
Like most busy professionals, Shawn Kelley has a hectic life. The Vance counselor does her best to overcome life's obstacles, but sometimes they knock her down and she has to recover quickly.

On Wednesday nights, the obstacles wear different hats - they wear helmets actually, along with elbow pads and knee pads and sport hefty desires to inflict pain. Sometimes they knock her down and she has to recover quickly.

"Roller derby is insane," she said with a laugh.

Kelley has skated with the Enid Roller Girls, a nationally-sanctioned roller derby team, for five years and she has the battle scars to prove it. She said roller derby came into her life at the right time and lacing up the skates has been invaluable to sharpening her resiliency skills.

"I was newly divorced," she said. "When you're in a relationship, all of your friends are 'relationship friends.' Things happened, and I lost some friendships, so it was kind of an adjustment. When roller derby came along, it literally fueled a lot of things for me. It's an instant support system. It reminded me of the camaraderie of the military. It's a team -- we take care of each other."

With an energetic demeanor that doubles her small frame, Kelley is a fearless, top-tier jammer with the Roller Girls. To score points in roller derby, players have to stop the opposing team's jammer from lapping them, while also making holes on the track for your own team's jammer to slip through, making the position the center piece of successful squad.

She said roller derby has helped her make connections with others, even beyond just making new friends.

"I have friends outside of derby, but for me, in derby we have a connection and share a common goal," she said. "It like with your work, you're 'all in' together. You're all collaborating and hopefully trying to meet that mission goal."

Maggie Laws, Vance's resilience program director and a Master Resilience Trainer, said the benefits Kelley has found at the rink are in lockstep with some of the tenets Comprehensive Airmen Fitness instructors embolden in their students.

"Physical activity helps release endorphins that help to fight stress," she said. "When it comes to resilience, the physical part is important because if your body isn't operating at its utmost, then it's an easy way for you to become depressed. It's an easy way for you to become tired and not get motivated."

She added that CAF's definition of physical wellness includes other goals, such as a balanced diet and proper rest.

CAF also touts social well-being as part of the curriculum's four pillars of wellness.

Kelley found "a team" when she laced up for roller derby, and her connections with them keep her skating past the ultimatum she gave herself in 2010.

"My goal when I started was 'I'm doing this until I'm 40,'" Kelley said. Now 41, she's still jamming.

"I got active," Kelley said of becoming a Roller Girl. "I had an instant group of friends who had kids - it really worked well for me."

Down the street from Kelley's office in Vance's mental health building, Senior Airman Thomas White is an airfield systems maintainer with the 71st Operations Support Squadron. He's a part of a small team that troubleshoots and maintains a large array of communication and navigation systems across the base.

Downtime for components like the Tactical Air Navigation system, a cornerstone of controlling safe air traffic, can grind Vance's training mission to a halt.

"It can be stressful," said White. "Whenever TACAN goes down, it's an immediate emergency, and we have everyone immediately available on it. We have a pretty high uprate on it."

While maintaining aviation systems at a high-tempo pilot training base can be all-encompassing, White manages to find room in his schedule to wear another uniform: Space Marine commander.

White and a handful of his shop mates are some of the thousands of people worldwide who play Warhammer 40,000, a science fantasy tabletop game that includes a library of novels and references as part of the particular gaming culture.

For the layman, Warhammer 40K is a complex version of the strategy board game "Risk." Game pieces have certain values and abilities, and players build their armies based upon what they feel will bring them to victory in a given scenario.

White said that while players can get finished pieces through third parties, assembling and painting the intricate game pieces are big parts of his enjoyment in his new-found pastime.

"There are ideas from the novels and the books and games they've come out with, but ultimately it's up to the individual player," he said. "You can paint your armies like the ultimate bad guys they're portrayed as in the books, or you can take it in your own direction."

He said Warhammer offers him quiet time to decompress from the day's work, as well as another reason to get together with friends.

"There is so much detail in all of these little models," he said. "It takes a good half-of-a-day to put a big model together, or several of the smaller infantry models. After that, you have to paint it and come up with your idea as you're putting it together of how they are going to relate to the rest of your army.

"You can easily go to your friend's house, get out a big table and everyone will either work on putting their army together, or painting, without even having to do the battle part of it," White added.

Like Kelley and her teammates, Laws said White and his shop mates bolster their individual and collective resiliency skills by coming together for Warhammer.

"I think (having shared interests) is so important because that alone feeling is not a good place," Laws said. "You want to make sure that you're not sitting there for very long"

"We're buying units left and right," White said. "We're coming up with ideas for the scenery we will battle on looks like, the scenarios we can run, our individual unit compositions for each army and the point values."

White's military vocation, which calls for what he said is "a cool mind and cool hands," requires an attention to minute details. A mislaid circuit in an airfield system can change a vital component to a giant paper weight, and the even-keeled technician seems to thrive in that detail-heavy world.

Laws said White's draw to the high-definition world of Warhammer models is no anomaly. The same might be said for the lively Kelley who brings a similar positivity to the rink that she brings to her patients.

"That's the key of having life balance," she said. "This is from psychologists -- 10 percent of your happiness comes from work and the things that you have - materialistic things. Fifty percent is genetic, and 40 percent of your happiness comes from what you do in line with who you are. Connecting with people and getting involved with things that gratify you."

For White and Kelley, their 40 percents may look different, but their universal importance in strengthening their resiliencies is the same.

"A lot of times we focus on the ten percent, the job, the money, the house, the cars and not so much the 40 percent," Laws said. "If they're involving themselves with their forty, it's helping keep them balanced.

"That's the key," she said. "When you don't have something that you value - that you connect with and routinely engage in - by the end of the week you won't feel like you've accomplished anything because you're not doing 'you.' You have to find what makes you tick."