On April 7th, 2010, Ryan A. Conklin was a guest on The Marc Steiner Show, a radio show broadcast from Baltimore, Maryland. Ryan Conklin went on the show to discuss his memoir, An Angel From Hell. The host Marc Steiner was well versed in the details of the book and spoke with Ryan about several of the important parts in it.
Steiner asked about 9/11, which Ryan refers to at the start of the book. Ryan replied that he was in high school, planning on going to college, but not sure exactly what his plans would be after that. After 9/11, he was sure of what he wanted to do. He wanted to join the army. He joined at age 17 but waited until he graduated before going into uniform.
Steiner wondered if Ryan has considered why he joined the Army while other students did not. Ryan replied that it was something he wanted to do but it wasn’t something that many others did. He didn’t join because of following anyone else.
Next Steiner talked about Ryan entering Army training. Ryan explained that he had chosen to be an infantryman, but it was the Army that placed him with the 101st Airborne. Ryan was happy that to be part of it because of their traditions, such as their phrase, “rendezvous with destiny”. For him the airborne part was learning to jump out of helicopters instead of planes. He trained non-stop for 2 years before deploying. That amount of time was good for building camaraderie and giving him the training he needed to be effective in Iraq.
Steiner noted that the book is not a reflective work; it’s about what Ryan went through everyday. Ryan agreed that it is not an analysis, but rather a narrative about what daily life was like. He said he wrote it as if telling the story to a person who is ignorant of everything connected with the military. There are a lot of acronyms connected with the Army, but where Ryan used them, he provided definitions.
A major incident in the book is the death of Andrew Kemple and Steiner asked about it. Ryan stated that the war wasn’t personal for him until Kemple’s death. There had been injuries to friends that had caused some emotion, but Kemple’s death by a sniper hit Ryan with the reality of what could happen to any of the men in his platoon. There was a certain sense of comfort and familiarity of knowing what to do to protect yourself, but after the death of Kemple, Ryan started being more cautious and attuned to all the hidden dangers. Since there is no front line and no enemy in uniform, anyone could be the enemy. It was hard to deal with.
A few days after Kemple’s death several Iraqis were taken prisoner in relation to the sniping. As one of their guards, Ryan took his anger out on them, yelling and ranting and getting things off his chest. It felt good at the time, but while writing about it, Ryan felt that he had deviated from his usual good ways.
Steiner asked Ryan if he would still enlist if he had it to do over again. Ryan answered that yes, knowing what he knows now, he would. The friendships and life lessons from his time in the Army are invaluable. One of the important lessons he learned was how much greater his personal limits are than what he might have thought otherwise. The circumstances he was in, where he was pushed and where he was encouraged by seeing the endurance of his buddies, caused him to go beyond the mental barrier of his perceived limitations. He is still able to apply that expanded view of his ability in his everyday life.
However, now that he has done two deployments, Ryan has no interest in returning to the military. After the first deployment, he missed the camaraderie of his buddies and the good feeling from doing a job (as an infantryman) that he knew he was very good at. After the second tour, he had it out of his system to be an infantryman again. Technically, Ryan is still in the IRR, but the timing requirements of being recalled another time make it unrealistic for it to happen again.
On a question about the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Ryan talked about his involvement with the group, including his participation in their “Storm The Hill 2010” campaign to lobby Congress for veterans’ issues. Ryan spoke with Congressman and Senators and staff of the President about the IAVA’s agenda.
A radio listener called in with a question, asking Ryan if he had considered joining Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). Ryan replied that he had been to some of their events so that he could better understand their position, but their view is not necessarily what he consistently believes. His focus is primarily on the cause of supporting returning veterans.
At the end of the program, Steiner asked Ryan about one of the most striking passages in the book, which is a description of the visible aftermath of a suicide bombing. The words go into graphic detail of what a field of body parts looks like. Ryan explained that he wanted to adequately capture the horror of it. Referring back to the impetus for the whole book, he said he wrote the chapter as a way to get the images out of his head. For him this exercise was very effective, and he encourages other veterans also to use writing as therapy.