VFW Magazine January 2012 : Page 36
FEMALE VETS GIVE ALL ON THE TRACK Service members, veterans, spouses and contractors ﬁ nd camaraderie and a release from life stresses in the updated, female-dominated sport of roller derby. Many are VFW members. B Y K ELLY V ON L UNEN 36 • BY VFW • BOJANOWER JANUARY 2012 PHOTOS CHRIS
Female Vets Give All On The Track
Kelly Von Lunen
Service members, veterans, spouses and contractors find camaraderie and a release from life stresses in the updated, female-dominated sport of roller derby. Many are VFW members.<br /> <br /> Iraq War veteran by day, Brandi Harline moonlights as “Bee-ATricks” with the O-Town Derby Dames of Ogden, Utah.<br /> <br /> A VFW member of the Depart ment of Utah, Harline served four years on active duty with the Navy’s VF-154 Squadron on Japan. She deployed with the USS Kitty Hawk, spending 105 days in the Persian Gulf supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.<br /> <br /> While on Japan, Harline’s roommate, Kathy Myers (aka “Motorboat” of the Undead Bettys) started skating. Harline joined derby shortly after. “I find that the commitment to the unit’s mission that I learned in the military carries over to the sport,” she said. Harline adds that the most challenging part of derby for her is managing her adrenaline levels.<br /> <br /> “I have seen women have asthma attacks, sit out a few jams, and get right back up,” she said. “I have seen women take hits, get up, take a few limping strides, and then skate back into the pack and do what they are there to do.”<br /> <br /> Fellow skaters on Harline’s team suffer from broken bones, bad backs and knees, and hurt shoulders. “And they still show up to practice and push the limits of their injury to grow past it,” she said. “That’s the kind of strength I want and the kind of people I want to be around. Oftentimes, life circumstances knock me off my feet, and I want to have the strength to push the limits and grow past them.”<br /> <br /> Should Harline ever receive an injury that forces her retirement from skating, she plans to stay involved with derby by announcing, fundraising or helping to find sponsors. VFW Post 1481 in Ogden will sponsor the O-Town Derby Dames for their 2012 season.<br /> <br /> “Knowing there is a place for everyone who wants to be involved helps me deal with life,” she said. “I am continuously learning something new that I can apply to real life.”<br /> <br /> ‘THESE WOMEN GET IT’<br /> <br /> Staff Sgt. Cristina Leon Guerrero skates as “Mata Scari” for the GI Janes of Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Bettie Brigade league in Washington. Her jersey number, h21, was WWI spy Mata Hari’s code name.<br /> <br /> Guerrero has served more than 16 years on active duty in the Army. She deployed to Kandahar province, Afghanistan, in 2009-10 with the 2nd Stryker BCT, 2nd Inf. Div. A former field and ice hockey player, she says roller derby seemed to run in line with the sports she loves.<br /> <br /> “I happened to run into the Bettie Brigade at the right time in my life,” she said. “The nice thing about the league is that it is formed entirely of soldiers, airmen, veterans, military spouses and a few contractors. These women get it. They understand when one of us can’t make a practice because of military duty or a rifle range, or because one of us is in the field. They understand when time off is needed because a spouse or boyfriend comes home. This league truly is unique.”<br /> <br /> Fellow GI Jane, Tech. Sgt. Rebecca E. Schmidt, goes by “Tasty Bits” #42. In more than 12 years in the Air Force, Schmidt has served in Germany, Guam, Hawaii and Southwest Asia. She and her husband are members of VFW Post 7599 in Greenville, Pa.<br /> <br /> After watching roller derby on TV as a kid, Schmidt said she had wanted to play ever since. When she was stationed in Washington, she jumped at the opportunity. I am really lucky to be part of the Bettie Brigade and feel that I am part of something special,” she said.<br /> <br /> Schmidt explains that active-duty service members particularly have pent-up aggression for which derby is an ideal release.<br /> <br /> “You can come to practice and smash into girls that will always hit you back,” she said. “This team is special because they all understand the demands that the military puts on you and your family.”<br /> <br /> The Bettie Brigade’s founder, Army veteran and spouse Sarah Howard (“Gloria Sass”) also developed the Military Women’s Roller Derby Associa tion (MWRDA, www.mwrda.com). Nine current MWRDA leagues—including the 580 RollerGirls in Lawton, Okla., near Ft. Sill comprise at least 80% military-affiliated women.<br /> <br /> Jessica Sites, aka “Demon Llama,” skated with the 580 RollerGirls until her husband relocated to Camp Shelby, Miss. One of the first things she did was find a new league there. “In five years he retires,” she said, “so we can settle down in one spot where I can have my permanent derby family and find a VFW family, too.”<br /> <br /> Sites herself served as a light wheel vehicle mechanic with HHC, 326th Eng. Bn. (Air Assault), in Iraq from February 2003 to January 2004. A friend of hers picked up a flyer from the 580 RollerGirls at her favorite tattoo place.<br /> <br /> “When I saw her post a comment about it on Facebook I automatically said, ‘Heck yeah!’ ” Sites said. “Growing up I went to Great Skate in Roseville, Mich. I always wanted to learn to skate better doing crossovers, spinning a full 360 degrees. I also always have been a tomboy, so skating around while knocking around other people—bonus!”<br /> <br /> Sites said a lot of derby girls are soldiers, vets, military spouses or a combination, and that most military installations have a league nearby.<br /> <br /> ‘HOOKED EVER SINCE’<br /> <br /> Women aren’t the only ones getting in on the derby action. Fire Controlman First Class Jack Kemp referees for the San Diego Derby Dolls as “Sailor Jack.” He started his career in the Army in 1987 and transferred to the Navy in 2000, stationed aboard the USS Peleliu.v He embedded as a Navy technician with the Task Force 3rd Bn., 3rd Air Defense Artillery, in 2009-10 in Iraq. He says he plans to join VFW after he retires.<br /> <br /> Kemp’s wife joined Dead Girl Derby in Kansas City while he was deployed to Iraq. “I joined to spend more time with her, and show her my support for her new passion,” he said. “I have stayed with derby because I really enjoy the sport and have met a lot of great people.”<br /> <br /> Kemp says that, like many other veterans, he tends to be more serious than his civilian counterparts.<br /> <br /> “I have a lot of fun,” he said, “but I always try to improve my abilities and learn from my mistakes.”<br /> <br /> Andrew McLaughlin, aka “The Right Hand of Skatan,” refs for South Coast Roller Derby (SCRD) in California. McLaughlin flew more than 200 combat sorties into Iraq and Afghanistan in his 10 years with the Air Force Reserve’s 739th Airlift Squadron.<br /> <br /> When McLaughlin was going through a divorce, he decided he needed to get out, meet new friends, and try new things.<br /> <br /> “My ex-roommate was a skater for SCRD,” he said. “She had told me about needing more bodies to help. A few months later, I gave her a call. Not two weeks after that I was in my first pair of skates and have been hooked ever since.”<br /> <br /> McLaughlin said his military background helps him as a referee to be able to prioritize and multitask without getting overwhelmed by a lot of simultaneous action.<br /> <br /> “It’s also helped me separate my duties on the track from being friends with the girls and the referees above me off the track,” he said. “Our league has quite a few military members, and I believe it helps us keep our heads into the game and to push each other and ourselves that much more.”<br /> <br /> ‘I HAD THE MARINE MENTALITY’<br /> <br /> Coast Guard veteran Adrian Campbell skates and coaches as “Nuke Skywalker” #721 for an SCRD team. She spent eight years as a fire control and electronics technician, running 76mm and 20mm weapons systems. She served aboard the USCGC Gallatin in 2000 and USCGC Morgenthau from 2001-05, traveling to the Caribbean, Central and South America and the Bering Sea.<br /> <br /> After leaving the Coast Guard, Campbell wanted to try something new and meet some new friends. “The derby girls always looked like they were having so much fun, and it turns out they are,” she said. “It’s an aggressive sport and I wanted a challenge. The gym just wasn’t cutting it anymore. Plus the outfits you get to wear are awesome!”<br /> <br /> Campbell says she “dealt with some pretty crazy stuff” in the Coast Guard, which prepared her for the competitive roller derby lifestyle.<br /> <br /> “There were many times I wanted to give up and didn’t,” she said. “It was never just a job—my shipmates were my family and I couldn’t let them down. Derby is the same. The training is tough, but you work through it and everyone helps each other out. We are a team and a family. We all help take care of each other.”<br /> <br /> Jennifer Tosh Martin joined the Marines in June 2000 when she decided college wasn’t for her. She deployed with a Marine Expedi tionary Unit (MEU) from August 2003 to March 2004. As a supply administrator, she served in Kuwait and provided logistical support in Doha, Qatar. Martin deployed again with an MEU from June 2005 to February 2006 to Al Asad, Iraq, integrating Navy and Marine logistics. She deployed a third time from April-November 2007 as a career retention specialist.<br /> <br /> Martin left the Marines in November 2008. By December the next year, she was on eight wheels with SCRD.<br /> <br /> “Coming into this sport I had the Marine mentality: do more with less, focus and get the job done,” she said. “As a Marine, I wanted to know everything about the job I was doing because knowing the big picture makes the small picture that much more clear. I immediately wanted to know everything about derby because then everything we did in our league just clicked for me.”<br /> <br /> Martin became her league’s head referee for its 2010 season. When her husband deployed with the Explosive Detector Dog Plt., 1st Combat Eng. Bn., she went on hiatus but decided to return as a skater when he came home. She played her first bout in July 2011 as “Chesty PullHer.”<br /> <br /> Martin says this sport provides the comfort of camaraderie that she felt she had lost after leaving the service.<br /> <br /> “I was one of those Marines who ‘was the job,’ and I felt so out of place after I got out,” she said. “This gave me a place to fit in again, with a great group of men and women who I knew had my back. Everyone comes from all different walks of life and we come together because of the love we have for a sport that empowers us.”<br /> <br /> Roller Derby, 1880s to Today<br /> <br /> ROLLER DERBY is a contact sport that involves two teams skating around an oval track. Points are scored when the designated player (the jammer) of one team laps members of the opposing team.<br /> <br /> Roller derbies were first endurance races on roller skates, popular from the 1880s into the 1920s. A multi-day touring exhibition of such races began in 1935. Soon thereaft er, teams were structured, a point-scoring system was enacted, and some forms of contact were allowed, creating the basic format of contemporary derby.<br /> <br /> By the 1960s and into the 1970s, the sport increasingly became a form of entertainment that many people associate with the sport to this day. The sport’s grassroots mid-2000s revival generally does not include this extreme level of showmanship.<br /> <br /> Contemporary derby is played in more than 600 leagues in over 20 countries on flat and banked tracks, predominantly by women. It showcases pseudonyms and colorful uniforms, but not the staged events with pre-determined winners defined by earlier eras of derby. Leagues typically operate on an amateur circuit.
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