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Elite USAF rugby player brings her skills to deployment

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Katie Mueller and Capt. Michelle Sierra-Kwandham
  • USAF Rugby Team Support Staff

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Tanya Siford, 7th Logistics Readiness Squadron Individual Protective Equipment Supervisor at Dyess Air Force Base, recently returned from a deployment at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, Africa. While there she was attached to the 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron.


When Siford isn’t in her Air Force uniform, she’s in a different one--a rugby uniform. Siford is incredibly skilled on the field as a rugger and off the field as an Airman. She started playing rugby in college, has played for 11 years, on seven different teams and traveled with the United States Air Force Women’s Rugby Program on three different occasions.


“Rugby has helped me a lot during both of my deployments,” Siford said. “During my first deployment in 2017, I recently went through a divorce and I was very closed off. I did some self-reflecting and remembered how much pure joy rugby brought to me. I decided to get out of ‘rugby retirement’ and after a while, I started to feel like myself again.”


Sports can really help Airmen mature and develop, which is why the USAF sports programs are so valuable. Rugby in particular fosters strong communication skills, perseverance and teaches players how to get up again after facing adversity.  


U.S. Air Force Maj. Nicole Jansen, USAF Women’s Rugby Program OIC, said, “Tanya leads by example with courage, commitment and tenacity--skills that are valued both on the rugby pitch and in uniform.”


The military, much like rugby, requires strategy and determination. Siford, among other athletes, use those same skill sets on and off the field.


“Rugby has helped me get out of my comfort zone and allowed me to open myself to new experiences and people,” Siford said. “Professionally, it helped me become a better leader and follower, as well as how to quickly adapt to new situations.”


Siford really stops and takes lessons learned from her rugby experience into her work center.  Her rugby team, like her work team, is important to her. 


“The camaraderie in rugby is something special and I will always love that about the game… [it shows me that] bringing people together for a common goal is what being part of a team really is,” Siford said. 


Rugby has helped Siford grow in a variety of ways.


“The game is constantly changing while you’re playing so you must always be aware of your surroundings and try to react quickly,” Siford said. “You practice for weeks and sometimes only a fraction of the plays you run will play out how you intended, which makes it even more exciting when a play does come together!”


The attributes of a player like Siford make it easy to see why she was selected for the USAF Women’s Rugby Elite Performance team.  She was selected from a highly competitive pool.  Her fitness, speed, ability to read the field and opponents, attitude, mindset, and commitment radiate on the field. 


After finding out she made the USAF team for the first time she said, “I was ecstatic. Not only did it mean that I could still play the sport that I love, but also represent the Air Force which has given me so much already.”  


The Air Force has helped in Siford’s rugby career just as rugby has helped her in a professional sense.


“Tanya first joined the team as an Airman. Despite her rank, she naturally rose as a team leader,” said Jansen. “During her second USAF rugby event she was named team captain.”


Siford wears her Air Force uniform, and her rugby uniform with pride. 


When asked what words of wisdom she had for others, Siford said, “Being in the military can be a lonely life, but it doesn’t have to be. If anyone is feeling lonely or feels like they don’t belong, I encourage them to find something that brings them joy; whether it’s playing sports, reading memes or binge-watching shows, and continuing to do those things. Rugby is my happy place and I hope others find theirs as well.”