US Army veteran draws on life lessons in new job as Husson volleyball coach

Husson volleyball coach Jodie Fairbank coaches her team during a practice at Husson University on Monday.
Husson volleyball coach Jodie Fairbank coaches her team during a practice at Husson University on Monday. Buy Photo
Posted Sept. 10, 2013, at 12:43 p.m.
Husson volleyball coach Jodie Fairbank coaches her team during a practice at Husson University on Monday.
Husson volleyball coach Jodie Fairbank coaches her team during a practice at Husson University on Monday. Buy Photo

BANGOR, Maine — First-year Husson University volleyball coach Jodie (Wood) Fairbank will likely be able to handle any predicament she encounters this season.

After all, she served a 15-month tour in Iraq with the United States Army where she had to adapt to a steady dose of gunfire and explosions. She served in the Army for eight years, also doing a tour in Africa.

She had previously played volleyball for one year at a predominantly black college in North Carolina where she had very few friends and felt alienated.

Fairbank is a single mom to 6-year-old daughter Savannah. She also teaches criminal justice at Husson.

“I’ve seen a lot of different situations. But it has been really beneficial,” said the 35-year-old Fairbank, daughter of former Maine high school basketball and baseball coach, Buddy Wood.

“It has been an amazing ride,” she added.

Fairbank played three sports at Machias High School. She played virtually every position on the volleyball court; was the off-guard on the basketball team and the center fielder on the softball team.

“I enjoyed volleyball more, but I was better in softball in high school,” she said.

She attended the University of Southern Maine where she played three years of volleyball and one season of softball.

But she wanted a degree in criminal justice. USM had a degree in criminology but not criminal justice.

“I was looking to go somewhere new. I put some feelers out there and the volleyball coach at Elizabeth City State University [N.C.] got back to me. He offered me a partial scholarship. It sounded like fun. So I went on a whim,” said Fairbank.

She was told that it was mostly a black school but didn’t think that would be an issue.

“It was an eye-opening experience. I had never experienced anything like that before,” said Fairbank. “Racism wasn’t an issue where I was raised. Nobody cared [about the color of your skin].

“I had been at USM which was a much bigger school, but you didn’t hear about a lot of crazy incidents at USM. It wasn’t the same down there. There were huge incidents. A girl on the volleyball team got her face sliced,” said Fairbank, who was one of just two white players on the team. The head coach was also white.

She was named one of the team captains despite the fact she had little interaction with her teammates or classmates.

“I was isolated. But I kept working hard. Everything is what you make of it. It made me stronger,” said Fairbank.

Even though she felt alone, she said she received a top-notch education in criminal justice.

After graduating, she moved to Florida and worked in a pilot program for juvenile delinquents.

“But I didn’t like the heat,” she said.

She returned to Maine and had jobs in Lewiston and Augusta before joining the Army.

“It was time to start paying back my student loans. I had always thought about the military. I was 26. It was time to join or forget thinking about it,” she said.

“The Army paid off my student loans and helped alleviate the [financial] burden on my parents. I have two [college-educated] sisters,” said Fairbank, who has a master’s degree in criminal justice.

She was in the military police and deployed to Sadr City, Iraq.

One of her responsibilities was gathering information about soldiers who were killed in action and putting together a DVD and slideshow for their families. That was combined with footage of their military funeral in Iraq and sent to their families.

“I was part of the memorial team,” said Fairbank. “It was much more emotional than physical. It was really hard to ask [their friends] for pictures to send back to the families.”

After returning to the states, she was allowed to go to Machias and work in an Army recruiting station because her mother, Debbie, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She wanted to help out with her mother’s care. Her mother eventually died.

She is indebted to the Army for finding a job for her so she could be with her mother.

She was eventually sent to Africa for a year as part of a seven-member military intelligence-gathering team.

In addition to the discipline and structure skills that are part of everyday life in the Army, she also helped overcome some of her fears like public speaking.

And those skills will be beneficial in recruiting student-athletes.

Fairbank retired from the Army and returned to Maine where she landed a job as a child support enforcement agent for the department of health and human services.

“But I learned I wasn’t good working behind a desk. I needed to be out doing stuff,” said Fairbank.

She found out that the Husson volleyball coaching position was open, and there was also a professorship in criminal justice.

“I applied on a whim not expecting to get a call on either one, and I got a call on both. After the interviews, I was offered both jobs, and I took them,” said Fairbank.

Wood made an early impression on her team.

“She talked to us for an hour at the end of last season, and I decided that I definitely wanted to come back. I wanted to be part of this,” said sophomore hitter Samantha Houston of Topsham. “She’s really good. She inspires me.

“I’m from a military family and her structure makes sense to me and brings all of the girls along faster,” added Houston, whose parents were in the Navy and who plans to join the Marine Corps after graduation.

She has already spent time in boot camp at Parris Island.

“I told her she reminds me of one of my favorite drill instructors,” said a smiling Houston. “She knows what to say. If we mess things up, she’ll say this is how we’re going to fix it.”

“She is very dedicated to her work, and she’s very good at pushing us to our full potential,” said sophomore setter Ryan Hood of Princeton. “She likes the phrase ‘Don’t make me yell because I can if I have to.’ She makes it fun for us.”

The players also mentioned that Wood has integrated a wide variety of new drills that keep things interesting.

“We do a lot of different things to keep it new, fresh and fun,” said assistant coach Alex Barner, who was the interim head coach last season and assisting Fairbank this season.

Barner added that Fairbank “brings a different perspective because of all of her life experiences. She teaches them relatable life lessons not just how to get through a practice or a game. She teaches them how to get through school and life. “

Fairbank and her Eagles were 3-5 entering Tuesday night’s game against USM. At her first home match, her dad and daughter were on hand. She joked it was role reversal for all the time she and her sisters [Jamie and Jordan] would attend his games.

Her father has been a major influence on her life and it only seems appropriate she would wind up at Husson. Her father and grandfather [Colby Wood] are both in the Husson athletic hall of game.

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