“Memories of the Fallen: Luke Ryan”
Tell me briefly about your background and early years. Where did you grow up?
“I didn’t actually grow up in the U.S. My parents are medical missionaries – my dad is a doctor and my mom a nurse – and we grew up all over the place. I spent nine years of my childhood in northern Pakistan, and after 9/11, it got too dangerous to stay there. After a terrorist attack on my school, at which myself, my brother, and my mom were present, we moved to Thailand. I spent five years there, finishing up high school at an American international school. My parents still live in Thailand and work in neighboring Burma/Myanmar.”
Why did you join the military? Who or what led you to that decision?
“Like anyone else, I guess there were a lot of factors in joining the Army. I certainly had the thirst for adventure and desire to push myself to the limits of my body, mind, and spirit, and I wanted to do young-man stuff while I was still young. Despite growing up overseas, I always considered myself a patriot. My dad and grandfather are both veterans; my mom is a born and bred Arkansas girl. They both taught me to love and respect everyone from all cultures, but they still instilled a sense of appreciation for all that Americans have today. Serving a country that, for the most part, fell in line with my values sounded like a great choice. Growing up in Pakistan certainly was a huge influence in joining the military. I knew who the Taliban were long before 9/11 – back then, the Taliban were mostly in Afghanistan, and we would often run into refugees running from them. We helped a few of them get visas and into other countries like the U.S., Canada, or Norway. Then, by coincidence, my country of origin went to war with the Taliban. Of course, I was in 7th grade back then, but eventually, I grew up, and we were still at war.”
What was your job in the Army? What type of training did you have to undergo to be certified for that position?
“I was an Army Ranger, and I wound up as a Fire Team Leader in the 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. I had to go through Basic, Airborne School, and RASP to get there, and then Ranger School to become a leader within the Regiment. I also went to SERE-C and a bunch of great Regiment internal courses.”
Who are some of the soldiers you worked with that had an impact on your service?
“I have had my share of good and bad leaders, like anyone else in the military, but I was lucky to have a series of great leaders right when I came into Ranger Regiment. I was a Private in B Company, 3/75, and I had an excellent Team Leader, Squad Leader, Platoon Sergeant, and First Sergeant. Many of those guys are living legends within the Regiment now, and one of them has moved on to Delta. But the soldier who has had the greatest impact on my service was my best friend, Patrick Hawkins, who was KIA in 2013. He was a dedicated Ranger, a tough but fair leader (in contrast to my more relaxed attitude), and a surprisingly soft-hearted and loving person. We pretty much went through every stage of training at around the same time, went on all the same missions on all the same deployments, and were roommates up until he got married. When he was killed, I had the honor of escorting his body back to U.S. soil, and that happened to be the same time I began out-processing from the Army.”
When you hear the term “leader” who is the first person that comes to mind?
“When I hear the term ‘leader,’ I could think of a number of people from my military service, but I also think of my father, Mitch Ryan. He manages to inspire others through his sheer passion for serving others, his humility, and his raw dedication to the path that has been chosen for him. Instead of sitting around complaining about young generations or the state of the world, he has literally spent his life making the world better. Leading by example is really the only way to do it. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention how he would be much less effective without my mother, who bears the weight of a lot of inglorious administrative tasks – tasks that are crucial to any functioning machine. Leaders are no good if the system they are charged with can’t work; it’s a team effort.”
What was your most memorable experience while wearing a uniform?
“I had a lot of memorable experiences while wearing the uniform – in training or combat, funny moments or harrowing ones, and of course all of the landmark graduations and achievements wrought from hard work. However, if I had to think of the single most impactful moment in my military career, it was probably in a quiet, nondescript office in Germany when I was escorting Patrick’s body back home to his wife and parents. They had been notified, but a rumor had made its way to the ears of his wife. A seed of doubt was planted in her head that maybe, just maybe things were actually okay. I was on a landline fraught with connection issues, and I managed to tell her that he was in fact, dead. I was there. The line was so broken, I’m not sure what she could hear and what she couldn’t, but the message was received. He was gone, and we needed to get him home and lay him to rest. I’ve cried three times in the past fifteen years or so, and right after that phone call was one of them.”
What taste, touch, or smell symbolizes the Army to you?
“Oh man, that’s a tough one. I have a terrible sense of smell, but when a distinct smell does float on up, it brings me right back. I’d have to say the smell of CLP really takes me back, and I would guarantee you I’m not alone in that!”
Describe your favorite aspect about life in the Army. Least favorite?
“My favorite aspect of life in the Army was running through shoot houses. My second favorite was probably fast-roping, which is funny because fastrope training really freaks me out. Something about the towers makes me afraid of heights, but I just suck it up and do it – but doing it out of a real helicopter is pure fun. My least favorite is easy: whenever the red tape got in the way of combat effectiveness. I’m not talking about Rules of Engagement or politics or anything like that (though I have my opinions with that), I’m talking about spending hours and hours teaching people to march when they can’t even react to contact.”
How has military service changed you? How have you continued to serve after the Army?
“Military service had a huge impact on my life. It taught me discipline, sacrifice, and the ability to do things I don’t want to do, but that need to be done. It gave me so much knowledge about the world, and ever since I’ve been trying to take that knowledge and convert it into wisdom that I can use and pass on. It taught me how to ‘live in the suck’ with a smile on my face, and how to try to continue to serve with my writing. Whether it’s my novel (my second one is almost done) trying to shed light on the nature of war and human conflict, or my poetry trying to articulate the thoughts and feelings of warriors, I want to serve as a positive voice in American culture. Right now, war is probably what I am most familiar with, but as I continue in life, I would like to tackle other subjects. If nothing else, I’d like to keep the names and memories of the fallen alive in the minds of Americans. I try and bring those names up often for that reason alone.”
What should the average civilian know about the military?
“The average civilian should know that military service members aren’t ‘XYZ.’ They aren’t a bunch of vet-bros, they aren’t a bunch of tender-hearted, war-torn stereotypes, they aren’t all nerds or jocks, and they aren’t all PTSD-ridden, nor are they cold-hearted killers. It’s so easy to try and categorize people, veterans even do it about themselves (some often try and describe the majority of military service members as just like themselves), and some civilians kind of think in terms of faceless storm troopers. They are ordinary people, with their own ideas and thoughts, their quirks, and their varying ethics or political leanings. You hear variations of ‘ordinary men doing extraordinary things’ a lot, but you really have to think about that. For example, people have these romantic, extreme ideas of what Rangers are, and I think that when they meet me, they’re surprised that I’m just some regular dude. When I got out, I wasn’t very good at talking to girls – some buddies of mine were total players. I served with a guy who was a state-champion wrestler (with a soft heart), and I also served with a guy who has read every Star Wars book in existence who was a total bad-ass. Both were exceptional Rangers. They certainly ARE held to a standard, but it’s a practical, physical standard of discipline, fitness, and skill-sets. Certain mindsets lend themselves to excelling in those fields, but I wouldn’t confuse that with personality quirks.”
What is your current position as a civilian, and how did your Army experience prepare you for that?
“I currently work three jobs, two part time and one full time. My full-time job is as a Creative Services Producer for a local television station. On top of that, I run a small, military-oriented blog, and I write my own poetry and books. I try and balance all of that with spending time with my girlfriend and my dog, and also working out and taking care of my body. There’s no way I’d be able to do all that without my experience in Ranger Battalion. I’m currently working on cutting some things out for a better balance, but I’ve found a way to make it work for now, and I can completely credit that to the military.”
Probably the most important of all: what is your favorite MRE? Describe it to our civilian readers.
“Okay, this is the most important question. To all MRE makers out there: know your place! A gourmet or home-cooked meal is going to taste terrible in an MRE. You can’t make a good burger or omelet and pretend like it could be in an MRE too. Instead, you have to own what you’ve got. Microwaveable food that comes in a can? It will probably be a favorite. The perfect example is my favorite – ravioli. If they tried to make the beef ravioli MRE meal gourmet style, like how you would get at a restaurant, it would have been terrible. Instead, some genius decided that the Chief Boyardee version would be better since that’s supposed to be prepackaged and heated on-the-go anyway. It’s built for that. And it’s excellent. Same goes for the sloppy joe.”