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Air Force true-blues take up activities to combat the 'blues'

Today’s Airman is part of an expeditionary force and subject to many stressors.  Different physical, mental and spiritual activities combat stress so Airman can continue on the fast track to 100 percent mission success.

Today’s Airman is part of an expeditionary force and subject to many stressors. Different physical, mental and spiritual activities combat stress so Airman can continue on the fast track to 100 percent mission success. (Courtesy Photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- If you're down and out and not at your best
And things that you face have put you to the test.
If you need a good way to get out of this mess,
Here are a few ways to combat your stress.

Today's Airman is part of an expeditionary force and subject to many stressors. But packed in every Airman's arsenal are physical, mental and spiritual tools to combat stress and continue on the fast track to 100 percent mission success.

Peddle through it
Growing up on Vandenberg, Dan Ardoin, response division chief for the Vandenberg Fire Department, was familiar with the central coast valleys, but fell in love with the terrain after he started mountain biking three years ago.

Mountain biking gets Mr. Ardoin's body moving, which is his way of fighting the fatigue that often comes with stress.

"It super charges you," he said. "I get tired and sore but I recover quickly and feel more energetic afterwards...it's an instant relief."

Not only does this physical activity battle the symptoms that come along with stress, but it works to head it off.

"I believe that mountain biking makes him less irritable in this high stress job," said Mark Farias, Vandenberg fire chief. "It also adds clarity allowing him to multi-task and prepares him for the work related 'mental marathons'."

Mountain biking has also lessened the affects of stress at home and gave him something else to enjoy with his wife.

"Biking with my wife is a good way of bonding and gives us much needed quality time together while we are both doing something we love," Mr. Ardoin said.

Mountain biking isn't the only physical activity available on Vandenberg. The ORV trail is open for hiking, the outdoor recreation center here hosts a white water rafting trip and there are a myriad of intramural sports through the fitness center to try every season.

For those who aren't as pumped to pick up a bike and hit the trail, there are more artistic ways to fight the war on stress.

Piecing life together
It was a typical story. Boy meets girl, boy and girl take stained glass class together, boy dumps girl, moves to the Antarctic and uses stained glass to solder together the broken pieces of his life.

John "Mac" MacMillan started working stained glass after a break-up in 1977, and the effect of putting his creativity to work and getting his mind going is just what he needs to fight stress.

"After I moved to the South Pole, I kept making stained glass," the 30th Range Management Squadron quality manager said. "It became my stress reliever."

After returning to the Northern Hemisphere, Mac still uses stained glass as his personal relief while creating personalized gifts.

"I never bought presents for anyone," Mr. MacMillan said. "I would make something out of stained glass...not only was it a unique, personal gift, but also a release."

Mr. MacMillan found relief in creating beautiful stained glass pieces and also felt uplifted by creating something beautiful.

"While I'm making a stained glass piece I think about the good times that I had with the one I'm making it for," he said.

Not only does his creative outlet occupy his mind, it causes his problems to vanish.

"It makes everything go away because it burns off those bad things," Mr. MacMillan said. "While creating stained glass pieces it sets your mind to go in a good direction rather than to let it dwell in the sewer."

For those who aren't as enthusiastic about broken glass, other mental stress-relieving activities include taking a music class at a local college, finding a meditation class in the local area or trying one of the other art classes offered through the Vandenberg arts and crafts center.

Although Mr. MacMillan uses stained glass as something positive for himself, he has found an outlet that affects him on a much deeper level--through enhancing the lives of others.

Help me, help you, help me
For the past 8 years, he has been volunteering to teach a stained glass class at the base arts and crafts center. In what serves the community and adds value to society, volunteering is part of the tool that gets Mr. MacMillan his desired stress relief result.

"My satisfaction is the look on their faces when they create something so beautiful," Mr. MacMillan said, as tears welled up in his eyes. "I like seeing other people's happiness as a result of what I've taught."

For those who don't feel they have a flair for the creative, there are other ways to offer time and feel that kind of helping hand of relief.

1st Lt. Angela Webb has been a 'big sister' for the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Lompoc for a year and uses her time with her designated 'little sister' to relieve work stress.

"Even after the worst day in the office, there's something uplifting about making a child's day," the 30th Space Wing Public Affairs deputy officer said. "Even if I am feeling down I know that I'm making, what might be the only positive influence on a child's life."

If working with children doesn't bring about desired stress relief, other volunteer opportunities in the Vandenberg area include donating a few hours a month to the GI Java, taking part in a Surf Beach cleanup or reading to the elderly at local nursing home.

Whether pedaling down a dirt trail, creating a masterpiece or simply paving the way for the next best generation, Airmen can defeat stress to foil stressors and continue to be mission ready to serve in the world's greatest air and space force.

Editor's note: This article is the third in a four-part series on factors that contribute to a healthy, positive mental state.