Conquering tragedy

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Allison R. Schore, a medical administrative officer at the 182nd Medical Group, recalls surviving a traumatic event for an interview at the 182nd Airlift Wing, Peoria, Ill., May 29, 2015. Schore had good foundations in mental, physical, social and spiritual wellness that helped her remain resilient after the tragedy. (U.S. Air National Guard photo illustration by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer/Released) (This image was manipulated by altering the background color, applying cosmetic touch-ups and adding text

Story by Lealan Buehrer

PEORIA, Ill. – First Lt. Allison Schore heard two shots ring out inside the restaurant. Two unmistakable gunshots. Then three more.

“I knew instantly what that noise was,” she said. “There was a band playing inside and everyone was talking, lots of music going on – and then it just turned silent. I mean, no noise. Nobody moved.”

A body fell to ground in the doorway in front of her.

It’s a mass shooting, she thought.


Silence in the restaurant turned to deafening screams. The patrons erupted into a stampede, and Schore vaulted over the patio railing, scared for her life.

She and others ran for cover, but only then did Schore realize her elderly grandmother was still sitting on the patio. Her younger brother ran back towards the gunfire. The thought still chokes her with tears. They had just been celebrating his college graduation.

Schore tried to get to them, but a friend held her back.

“I remember yelling ‘Let me go! Let me go!’ And then I saw my dad and he was screaming at my brother too,” Schore said. “It’s the scariest moment of my life. Because at that point I thought my grandmother and my brother, they’re all going to die.”

June 14, 2014, 8 p.m. The entire event took only mere seconds to last a lifetime.

Without warning, a man had pulled out a gun and killed his ex-wife and her boyfriend at her high school reunion being held at the Fifth Quarter Sports Bar and Pizzeria. Then an off-duty FBI agent at the party returned fire. The body that Schore saw fall to the ground was the shooter.

The scene was chaos. Tables were flipped over. Photo frames and glass were smashed on the ground. Ambulances arrived. Police conducted interviews. When they were released several hours later, Schore and her family left the restaurant changed. What had been seen could not be unseen.

But it wasn’t the end.

Resiliency

Resiliency is the ability to recover. Fourteen months later, Schore is living a relatively normal life. She is a medical administrative officer at Peoria’s 182nd Medical Group, where she also serves as vice president of the company grade officer’s council and National Guard Association of Illinois representative for the wing. The self-described cardio addict runs almost every day, and she is about to celebrate two years of marriage.

Every once in a while she’s reminded of June 14.

“To this day, when there’s loud noises that aren’t supposed to be there and I’m in a group of people, it still kind of weirds me out a little bit. Or the popping sound of fireworks and stuff. Just that sound,” Schore said.

Although Schore has served in the Air National Guard for more than 10 years, she never before experienced anything like that day. However, many people stepped in to make sure she did not have to experience it alone.

Leadership at her wing checked up on her and offered an ear. Friends came together to talk through what they had witnessed. Local counselors offered free help to anyone affected by the trauma. The community came together to support the two children orphaned by the killings. Schore even found that her love of running helped her navigate the next difficult weeks.

Those things are part of what the Air Force calls the four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness, or CAF. The concept in Air Force Instruction 90-506 says that an Airman can remain strong against life’s challenges by maintaining their mental, physical, social and spiritual wellness. It is not just Airmen taking care of Airmen; it is Airmen taking care of themselves.

“The goal is to strengthen each of the four pillars so that each Airman can thrive and be part of a fully-operational Air Force community, prepared to be called on at any time,” said Dr. Penny Brower, director of psychological health at the 182nd Airlift Wing. “The nature and demands of daily life are constantly working to drain our resources in each of the four areas. Therefore, each person must be diligent to continually work toward balance in growing and developing new skills and in increasing the resources available for them to utilize during times of stress.”

Schore’s strong foundation of wellness may have made the difference.

Mental and physical fitness

Mental resiliency means effectively handling stress and challenges, particularly in thought, emotion and behavior, Brower said.

Schore had nightmares and sleeplessness for weeks after the shooting, but she eventually found solace in replaying the event in her head. She would think about what she could have done different or what she would have done had the circumstances changed – practicing mental awareness, adaptability and decision making. Instead of ignoring what happened, she worked through it in her thoughts while exercising.

“I’m a runner,” Schore said. “It sounds cliché, but running is my therapy.”

The CAF doctrine points to endurance, recovery, nutrition and strength as fundamentals of physical fitness that can enhance wellbeing and resiliency.

“There is overwhelming evidence that getting regular exercise is beneficial in reducing many health risks such as the development of diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Both aerobics and strength training are needed to maximize endurance and flexibility,” Brower said.

In Schore’s case, it was also her stress reliever.

“The running and working out definitely helped as far as the thinking through things, and it just clears your mind,” she said.

Social and spiritual fitness

Family and friends who were at the restaurant started reaching out to one another. A fundraiser was set up to support the victim’s orphaned children. The survivors were connected in that they experienced a traumatic event together. From that connectedness came what CAF describes as social support, communication and teamwork.

“They were there, they understand, and we’d talk through it and then figure out ‘Yeah, there was nothing you could’ve done to stop this,'” Schore said.

The community’s reaction was consistent with both social and spiritual resiliency, according to CAF.

“Social resiliency involves having fulfilling connections with others, being able to build and maintain trusted friendships, fostering good communication skills, and sharing ideas, perceptions and experiences,” Brower said. “Spirituality involves the beliefs and values that give someone a sense of purpose.”

In CAF, spirituality refers to the principles or values needed to persevere. For some, it can be a faith.

“I definitely prayed about it a lot, and I definitely thank God every day that my family and all my friends were okay,” Schore said.

For others, spirituality can also develop in non-religious ways, like simple meditation, charity or helping others.

“Airmen can practice spiritual resiliency by reflecting on what gives their life its meaning,” Brower said. “Think about the things that motivate you, inspire you, and give you a sense of purpose and fulfillment deep within your spirit, your force of life.”

CAF says those core principles will help enforce perspective and purpose when the going gets rough.

However, sometimes the rough gets too overwhelming.

Wingmen

“There are a multitude of symptoms that would indicate someone was having difficulty coping with trauma. It is important to know that everyone experiencing trauma will likely have some symptoms,” Brower said.

Symptoms could be anxiety and hyper-vigilance, depression, irritability, changes to eating or sleeping habits, feelings of excessive guilt or worthlessness, and even substance abuse or thoughts of suicide.

Although Schore already had strong pillars to rely on, what about those who do not?

“If an Airman becomes aware of a wingman who is struggling to cope, they should remember the ACE acronym: Ask, care, escort,” Brower said. “Asking someone how they are doing is actually a way of showing caring, as is offering to go with them to talk with someone who can be helpful, or encouraging them to come along with you as you seek services for them.”

There are a multitude of resources to help Airmen coping through trauma. These helpers include chaplains, first sergeants, SARCs and victim advocates, family life consultants, Airman and family readiness centers and counselors like Brower.

“As members of the Air National Guard, we are fortunate enough to have all these resources at our fingertips,” Schore said. “I strongly encourage anyone who has been a victim of trauma, regardless of what kind, to seek out these resources. They are here to help, they want to help.”

June 14 is a day Schore will never forget, but she will also never let it slow her down. Her four pillars were put to the test that day but they proved to be a strong foundation, and she persevered. Resiliency brought her through a dark experience that no person plans on having to witness. She, an Airman like any other, overcame.

How will you work on building your resiliency?

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