Veterans Day from a Veteran Perspective

This entry is written by Ryan Young, communications manager for the Fresno Grizzlies and Iraq War veteran. The thoughts and opinions reflect his personal journey during a day where we reflect on all service members that have served in the US Military.

Today is the first Veterans Day where I woke up and broke down in tears.

I couldn’t tell you exactly why, but my mind was frozen on all of the men and women I served with during my two combat tours to Iraq with the 3-187 Iron Rakkasans Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 7.24.15 PMMe just one week into my first deployment in 2006 (Samarra, Iraq)

The feeling of isolation was strong as my eyes welled up standing inside my downtown Fresno loft. There aren’t too many times where I freeze my thoughts on the time I spent in the military. I told myself when I was honorably discharged in 2009 that if I focused on it, or continued to talk about it, that I wouldn’t progress into a successful civilian career. Right or wrong, it’s the story I told myself through the experiences I had witnessed.

So from 2009 until late 2013, I plugged away at earning a college degree (graduated Cum Laude from Loyola Chicago) and acquired as much “real world” experience in the sports field as possible through internships and volunteer opportunities. However, it wasn’t until interviewing and eventually accepting a full-time job with the Fresno Grizzlies in the fall of 2013 that I was actually asked what my military service actually did for me.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 7.23.12 PMIraqi children I photographed on patrol outside of Yusifiyah, Iraq in 2007

Before that question from the Grizzlies, my military service was more of a talking point for a generic “Thank You” than an opportunity to understand what four-and-a-half years spent in the United States Army meant to my development and maturation as a person. Believe me, I tried to express its worth, but I often felt people took it as a novelty instead of something that actually truly shaped who I was.

At times, I went so far as to actually erase my military service from my resume, because I believed it became more of a detriment. Coincidentally, I made it through to an in-person interview twice during that span…

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 7.22.36 PMCapturing our mortar team during action in 2008 (Rushdi Mullah, Iraq)

My initial struggle to adapt to civilian life is similar to a lot of current veterans, but I do feel fortunate to be where I am today. In speaking with people I served with and veterans as far back as the Vietnam War, there are a variety of invisible challenges that are faced. Every service member has dealt with them differently. Personally, I’ve seen my friends get divorced, incarcerated, become addicted to alcohol, fail at going to college, and struggle to maintain jobs. However, I’ve also seen plenty of success stories of veterans starting their own business, graduating college, sometimes rejoining the military, or even heading into politics. And those that met the struggles have been able to fight through them and turn their life around.

During my two combat tours, one to Samarra, and the other to the Triangle of Death, my imagination went wild in the moments of solitude as I pictured where my life would be after the military. Most everyone who has been deployed to combat knows this, but the only moments of personal time come while taking a No. 2, the hours you’re given guard rotation, or the few minutes before passing out on your bed due to sheer exhaustion. On one cool evening at Patrol Base Shanghai in 2007, I distinctly remember smoking a “Miami” cigarette and silently hoping I would survive the deployment to make it to a moment of reflection like the one I’m writing about right now.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 7.21.03 PMLuis Duenas, Dusty Schmit, Matt Adams, Me (Iraq, 2008)

Now, five years removed from being an infantryman in the Iron Rakkasans, I realize how much the United States Army has made me who I am today. It’s provided lessons that a college curriculum could only hope for, and it’s given me a mix of friends and acquaintances that I am proud to have served with.

Below is the first journal entry I made into a book I kept throughout my service. It was written on April 11, 2006 from an airbase in Kuwait, mere hours away from boarding a C-130 to Baghdad with fellow soldiers I had next to nothing in common with outside of the fact we had all sworn the same oath.

“Looking back to [2005] I now chuckle that I find myself in Kuwait on the brink of cementing myself in the Iraq War. The breeze continues to throw our tent and it’s almost as if I feel innocence in the rain that’s falling. On the plane over here, I had a feeling of innocence in a tragic sense. I know I will feel guilt and hurt while doing my time here. I just hope my innocence won’t get lost along the way. Despite my mind continuing to flip feelings, I still believe I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for this. As long as my mind stays in it the physical parts will be easier. Now… I’m just waiting for the 2030 meeting to give us some insight on our flight to Baghdad.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 7.32.11 PMOn patrol along a road near the Euphrates River

On a day like today, I’m proud to be in the veteran family that’s grown to almost 20 million. I thank my family, friends, fellow soldiers and the Fresno Grizzlies for where I’ve been able to take my dreams.

Ryan Young | Fresno Grizzlies Communications Manager

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