Ryan didn’t come from a military family. He had an average all-American upbringing and always aspired to become a teacher. In the small pocket town of Marshall, Michigan, Ryan was born on April Fool’s Day and considers it the root of his sense of humor. At the age of eleven, Ryan and his family moved to the historic and equally small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Here, marble monuments of soldiers became constant reminders of America’s fighting spirit in a time of war and immediately became a source of great interest to Ryan.
High school students in their junior year often begin to search for their next step after graduation. Ryan remained undecided on his direction until the day that changed the lives of so many–September 11, 2001. Fueled by the unyielding desire to be able to take the fight to the enemy, Ryan sought a job that would guarantee his appearance on the front. Ryan joined the United States Army Infantry Division. His first hard fight came with convincing his parents to allow him to enlist at the age of seventeen with the promise of graduating high school before reporting to boot camp.
Ryan would end up serving over three years on active duty with the 101st Airborne Division. In September of 2005, he deployed for a year-long tour with his division in Iraq. For the first three months, he helped with security for the trial of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, before finishing out the rest of his deployment in Tikrit, where he ran daily and nightly combat missions throughout the city. As an infantryman, Ryan quickly became exposed to all that Iraq had to offer at one of the most turbulent times in the war. His days and nights were filled with roadside bombs, drive-by shootings, suicide bombings, relentless heat, large-scale military operations, and the loss of a comrade by an enemy sniper.
He experienced more lows than highs, and lived in a trained mindset that made surviving the conditions of combat possible, but nearly impossible to turn off when he transitioned back into civilian life. Ryan’s reflection of his tour was a bitter one to swallow and left him with more questions in his life, his role in the war and how to pick up the pieces.
In November of 2006, Ryan was honorably discharged from the Army and returned to his changeless hometown. He began attending college but felt disconnected from his classmates based on his previous experiences. Alcohol was usually his first answer to his problems, but frequently it only increased his problems. After the suicide of a fellow soldier Ryan served with, he realized he needed to face what he tried to suppress. Ryan found an outlet with writing in extreme detail about his experiences in Iraq as his way of expression. “It was my way to get out what was bottled up inside my heart and mind and get it onto paper, making something tangible that I could push away.”
After the completion of his personal memoirs on his deployment, Ryan felt liberated and returned to his spunky and spontaneous personality. A few weeks before he was to start his first semester at a major university, Ryan was selected out of thousands of applicants and became a cast member on MTVs reality show, The Real World: Brooklyn, which aired in 2009. Ryan expressed himself to an audience of millions through his own music, humor and pranks. He broke the stereotype and helped put a face on the modern veteran. With cameras rolling and America watching, reality hit Ryan when he received news he never expected or wanted to hear. He was involuntarily recalled to the Army and ordered back to Iraq.
As his season aired, Ryan was back in an Army uniform and deployed once again as an infantryman in Baghdad, Iraq. During his second deployment, Ryan immediately saw a different Iraq than the one he left years earlier. The difference in the Iraqi Army, daily operations and interaction with the locals all helped display a changed Iraq into a safer and stable country. Ryan found comfort in this and helped ease the bad taste in his mouth from the drudgery of his last deployment.
Ryan has always been highly involved in film and movies and deployed with a video camera, along with his standard arsenal of weapons. During his second deployment, Ryan filmed footage that would later become a documentary that he would star, film and co-produce that was aired on MTV on Veterans Day of 2009, titled Return to Duty.
In January of 2010, Ryan returned from combat and was again honorably discharged as a sergeant, with over four years of active duty service. His military awards include the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Expert Infantryman’s Badge, Air Assault Badge, two Good Conduct Medals, Army Achievement Medal, two Army Commendation Medals, Iraq Campaign Medal, and the Global War on Terrorism Medal.
Since his return, Ryan became a published author at the age of 24, with his book, An Angel From Hell, which was his personal memoirs from his first deployment in Iraq. Ryan has completed a book tour, appeared on several news programs such as MSNBC, Morning Joe, radio programs syndicated throughout the country, to include The G. Gordon Liddy Show, and numerous newspapers such as New York Times, Army Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and New York Daily News.
Ryan is a life-time member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and an avid member of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). Ryan was a member of IAVA’s annual “Storm the Hill” campaign in 2010, where veteran advocates spent a week on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC and met with senators and members of congress to implement change to benefit today’s veterans. Ryan even participated in a meeting in the West Wing with the President’s staff.
Today, Ryan is a full-time student at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is a film major and is currently helping launch the first student-veteran organization on campus: Temple Veterans Association.
Updated 4/11/11 2011/12