MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
It was a hot day in south Georgia. The buzzards were buzzing and the gnats were swarming, but that didn’t keep one Team Moody pilot from practicing his purpose as a volunteer photographer at a local horse therapy farm.
After battling depression in 2018, Capt. John Roling, 71st Rescue Squadron operations flight commander, found purpose in life by using his passion for photography to capture memories for people in the community.
“I had been an instructor pilot before moving to the rescue community,” Roling said. “When I made that transition, though, it felt like I had lost my purpose, where I didn’t look forward to flying. It had taken a toll on me more than I realized looking back at it now; and the thoughts that would go through my head when I was just driving in the car or that silent time when I’m by myself thinking how I just want to end it.”
Roling found victory in his struggle against suicide, after returning from a deployment in 2019, he found a sense of peace in photography that pulled him from the brink.
“When I got back from my deployment, I started doing photography and volunteering with it,” Roling said. “I found where I fit in, doing something I truly enjoy. Photography may not have been the answer to my depression by itself, but it was for me [to find] where I fit in with the community and find a reason to wake up every day.”
“When I take photos at these events [in the community], it allows me to meet new people and learn new things every day,” Roling added. “Because when I help out, I'm not just taking photos. My photography is like the introduction to who I am, what I want to be and how I want to help.”
Though Roling has always enjoyed helping people, it was his new love for photography that inspired him to be more involved in the community.
“Photography has definitely gotten me more involved with others,” Roling added. “It’s had a ripple effect where I can help introduce myself to people that I may not have talked to normally, opening the door to deeper relationships.”
Kristen Novack, assistant instructor at Jacobs’ Ladder therapeutic riding center, is one of the people Roling may not have normally talked to, but photography has given him an opportunity to give back as a weekly helping hand at the horse therapy farm for children in need.
“When [Roling] comes, he's here to take pictures, but he also helps with things around the farm. If we need help moving hay or help in the barn, he's always willing and able to do those things. We just appreciate everything he [does] while he's here. When you have someone here that you just enjoy being around, and that you can even call a friend, that means a lot.”
As Roling dusts off his boots after each day he’s able to work at the farm, it’s clear his passion for photography has helped him find his purpose.
“Even if the photo thing isn’t a viable option, I’d still figure out a way to be able to help out as best I could,” Roling said.
“If you don't know your purpose right now, go talk to people and get involved in the community,” Roling said. “You just might find your talent, something that helps you and gives you a better reason to wake up in the morning. It’s about being able to have a life that you can take ownership of, feeling you belong, having found a life worth living.”