Team Air Force Carries Their Spirit For All To See

Warrior Games Air Force Team - Jessica Derhammer

Phil Jackson, former head coach for the L.A. Lakers and Chicago Bulls said, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” For the United States Air Force team competing at the 2024 Department of Defense Warrior Games, that sentiment is referred to as the “spirit” of the team. It is the intangible magic that pushes them to achieve their personal best while driving their fellow teammates to do the same.

Retired Tech. Sgt. Jessica Derhammer is a member of Team Air Force and has a very simple definition of spirit.

“It’s Team Air Force,” she said. “We bring it more than any other team. Yeah, that may just be my opinion, but I mean, I think it’s a fact.” 

Derhammer is competing in eight individual sports—powerlifting, cycling, shooting, archery, track and field, swimming and indoor rowing—for the title of Ultimate Champion. While she pushes herself in those sports, she is out there cheering on Team Air Force as they compete against the other service teams.

“While I’m trying not to be nervous, I know our team has my back,” she said. “It’s a commitment. We are there for each other and are down for whatever it takes to motivate each other.”

Jessica carries a tangible object imbued with the spirit of Team Air Force; the coveted “Spirit Stick.” It’s a three-foot pole with blue and white tape wrapped around it, which in description seems very mundane, but in the mind of her fellow athletes it symbolizes the heart of the team.

“There are so many people that it [Spirit Stick] could have gone to, but I think there was no better person to get it than Jessica,” said retired Maj. Ken Hinton. “She’s competing in everything and cheering for everybody. She’s just so full of energy and spirit.”

Ken should know. He carried the Spirit Stick in 2019 and feels a special connection to it and what it embodies.

“It really is special to me,” he said. “There was another teammate, my friend Master Sgt. Heath Trepanier, that helped carry the Spirit Stick that year. Unfortunately, due to his health, he was not able to attend the Warrior Games that year, but he was there in spirit. He just had the biggest smile and every time he smiled, everyone around him smiled as well. A few years later he passed away from his illness, but I do remember his smile and that is what is important; the positive memories you have, even with those no longer with us.”

Jessica and Ken are just two examples of the heart of Team Air Force, with every member of the team pulling their weight to keep the foundation strong and, no pun intended, spirited.

“This is easily one of the most spirited teams we’ve had,” said Consuella Renee, AFW2 Track Coach. “They support each other in more ways than you could ever imagine, both here in Orlando and while training for Warrior Games. They would travel to meet each other and link up and support one another in any way possible. So right now, that spirit is really at an all-time high.”

“I’m so proud of them,” said Hinton. “Each of them has an amazing story of overcoming and doing well. The best thing about it is when I see the smiles on people’s faces, the pure joy, the pure happiness and emotion, and it almost tears me up thinking about what I’ve been able to witness here. It’s just incredible.”

Team Air Force will continue to push each other, finding their strength, both individually and as a team. You can follow Team Air Force on the AFW2 Facebook and Instagram pages and watch the Warrior Games live here on the Warrior Games website.