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They call him the yo-yo guy

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jennifer Seidl
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Newcomers to Altus Air Force Base learn something about the approachability of base chapel staff through a surprise they thought they'd left behind them in childhood.

"Being able to show them something that possibly blows their mind gets them talking, gets them more personable, and gets them more focused on what we're doing," said the Altus chaplain's assistant. "Also, it gets them to want me to get done quicker so I can show them more yo-yo tricks."

Staff Sgt. Toby Ratcliffe pauses, considering the impact he's had on first term Airmen here. His round, open face is thoughtful, analytical; it reflects the mind within. Give him a chance and he'll happily explain the physics of the yo-yo to you. He can even make it seem approachable and understandable.

"It's very technical; learning the different tricks and seeing how the physics work is stimulating for my mind. Also I can use it as a relaxing tool. If I'm thinking out a problem I usually grab a yo-yo and do simple maneuvers to calm my mind and focus on one thing," said Sergeant Ratcliffe.

Sergeant Ratcliffe, a native of Fort Worth now stationed at Altus AFB as a chaplain's assistant, has always been a 'hobby guy'.

"When I first started I was kind of doing the same things; being a hobby guy I would get into a hobby for 6 months or a year and then got out. With yo-yoing, it was a childhood passion; to yo-yo well," said Sergeant Radcliffe.

His interest in yo-yoing started as a joke in high school.
"I had a friend who, as a gag, got the three of us who hung out together a Duncan butterfly (yo-yo) just to see what we could do by Christmas break. I ended up breaking mine doing an 'around-the-world'; the string flopped off and it flew up in the air and hit the ground. I forgot about it for a year."

During that year, he joined the Air Force. Stationed at Eielson AFB in Alaska, his boredom prompted the purchase of a new yo-yo. And then another. And then another. Although he moved from Alaska to Germany, married and moved here, his interest in yo-yoing remained strong.

Finding a co-worker sitting at his desk working a yo-yo might raise some questions.

"At first it was kind of weird because they didn't know if I was working or not; usually I'm sitting here thinking, looking at my screens and yo-yoing back and forth. It just clears my mind so ... the more they see it, the more they introduce me as the Yo-Yo Guy."

His skills not only keep him sane in arctic climates and keep his head clear. Sergeant Ratcliffe uses his yo-yo to reach first term Airmen.

"I know from my own experiences, I had no idea what the chapel was beside going to church on Sundays and at the time that wasn't my thing. I didn't realize it was a resource, a place where you'd go and talk to a chaplain or anybody on the chapel staff with confidential communication," said Sergeant Ratcliffe. "That's all our mission is here at the FTAC briefings, just to inform them about who we are and what we're capable of."

To get that message across, Sergeant Ratcliffe uses his yo-yo.

"By yo-yoing I'm able to get everybody on the same level, because everybody's amazed at that one moment ... when I get them in that unexpected states, then I tell them about the chapel and they feel more comfortable here. We get more return visits," said Sergeant Ratcliffe.

"It's an ice breaker. I use the yo-yoing skill in front of our First Term Airmen's Center classes, introducing first-time Airmen to the chapel, letting them know it's a safe environment for anybody, whether they're religious or not and whatever background they might be from."

Like all serious hobbyists and all good Noncommissioned Officers, Sergeant Ratcliffe has passed what he knows and what he's learned that works on to his subordinates.

"I've actually passed the yo-yo skill off to my troop," said Sergeant Ratcliffe. "He saw me doing it when he first got here and he was like 'Wow, that's really weird...' Then not even 2 months later he was saying 'How do you do this, and how do you do that?'" I let him borrow the one (yo-yo) and now he has his own yo-yo collection and he does his (play) at FTAC."

"It's a weird thing," said the Yo-yoing NCO, "We see so many young adults that come through - we can't recognize every one of them when we're out on base, but then I have one come up to me and say 'Oh, you're the Yo-Yo Guy!'... they still know that my doors are open for anybody to come talk to."