Ryan Conklin’s Mother On The Radio

April 25, 2010

Ryan ConklinAuthor Ryan A. Conklin and his mother Pat Conklin were guests on the radio show “Radio Times” on station WHYY, discussing Ryan’s experience as a soldier in Iraq. Ryan Conklin was on the show to promote his book, An Angel From Hell.

The host of the show, Marty Moss-Coane, spoke to Ryan about how some soldiers struggle when they come home from a deployment, trying to adjust back into civilian life. Ryan remarked how the Army didn’t take steps to ensure people integrated back into society. His experience was that he came back to the U.S. and right away got processed out and was quickly back at home with his parents. It happened so quickly, Ryan didn’t have time to adjust. It left him feeling like he was on his own, just drifting around. Not knowing what to do going forward, he looked back with a sense that he still had unfinished business with the military, that he was out of place being away from it. He didn’t have anything in his at-home life that filled the void of the detachment. He missed a lot of things he had become accustomed to, especially the camaraderie of his buddies.

Ryan said that compounding that is that it isn’t possible to flip the switch to move from a combat mentality to a civilian one. In Iraq, the soldiers were constantly on guard in their minds with the anticipation of some attack, no matter what they were doing. When they come home, their mindset is still that way. It’s a struggle to deal with coming down from that apprehension. The host noted that in the MTV documentary about Ryan, Return to Duty, Ryan’s brother and sister remarked how vigilant Ryan was when he returned to his home town of Gettysburg. Ryan agreed, saying that seeing even a single piece of garbage on the highway would make his heart speed up, as his mind considered that it could be something that might blow up. Many other things would effect him adversely as well, such a loud noises from construction sites or traffic.

Ryan’s parents were watching Ryan to see how he was adapting to normal life. His mom could see how he was struggling. She suggested that he do something constructive with a stack of old printed emails – emails that Ryan had sent from Iraq to his parents detailing his experience there. She told him it would be good for him to use them as a basis for opening up and expressing himself through writing. Marty asked Pat about the emails and Pat explained why she had kept them for giving to Ryan when he returned home. Ryan is considered the historian in the family. He is very much into family genealogy. As all the family are history buffs, she felt that the emails would be worth holding on to, not knowing when Ryan might want to refer back to them to revisit what had occurred. Ryan did use the emails, and with them wrote An Angel From Hell.

Marty also asked Pat about an earlier experience when she had had to do something for Ryan: sign her permission for the then 17 year old Ryan to join the Army. Pat acknowledged that it was very hard for her to do. She was concerned for her son, but she could see that Ryan had thought through his plans well. He meticulously explained why he was doing it and how he would use it later in life. It took awhile to convince Pat, but reluctantly she acceded to her son’s intent.

Marty asked Pat about the emotion she clearly felt at the airport watching Ryan say goodbye as he left to return to the Army, as seen in the documentary Return to Duty. Pat said it was very emotional for the whole family and hard on all of them. She felt it was probably hard for Ryan too, but he doesn’t say much to his parents about what happens after he is out of their sight. It was actually harder the second time that Ryan went into the Army because the family knew what had happened during the first deployment. As a parent feeling the responsibility to protect her child and knowing she couldn’t, she was distraught about seeing him go.

Marty remarked that at the airport it was clear the family was trying to protect one another. Pat replied that the family didn’t want to put an additional burden on a departing soldier. They didn’t want him to to be concerned about how the family was bearing up. Once he was in Iraq they would again try to mask their concern, using humor when he called or wrote. They wanted to show Ryan that they were going to be okay.

With the communication with Iraq. there was the difficult situation with the blackouts. Where there was an incident with casualties, the Army would put a blackout on the internet and phone connections, to control the release of information about it. Ryan had warned his parents about it. He told them that if they didn’t hear anything for several days, that’s good. The Army would notify the family within 48 hours if their loved one had been injured, so if 48 hours had passed, they would know they were okay. The time during the 48 hour wait periods was very slow. Pat would want to communicate with Ryan, to know how he was doing, how he was feeling, what he was eating, and other parental concerns.

Something that Pat and her husband never needed to say to Ryan was their views on the war. Ryan still doesn’t know what his parents’ view is. What he does know is their faithful support of the soldiers in Iraq and how proud his parents are of him and what he has accomplished during the years of his young life.

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Ryan A. Conklin On The Marc Steiner Show

April 7, 2010

Ryan ConklinOn 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.


The Incredible Legs Of JR Celski

February 23, 2010

JR CelskiHow does a guy who has had the quadriceps on his left leg accidentally sliced through manage to win an Olympic speed skating medal? How does he do it only five months after they were sundered? A person who can accomplish that has a pretty amazing leg, or perhaps an incredible drive to succeed. The person at the 2010 Winter Olympics who had such a miracle leg was American short track speedskater J.R. Celski, and the evidence that he and his injured leg are really special is that he won the bronze medal in the 1500m event.

On September 12th, 2009, at the sport’s U.S. Olympic Trials, JR Celski was skating in the semifinals of the 500m when he crashed into the protective wall on the last lap. He hit it hard and at an angle that thrust the blade of his right skate into his left thigh. The stabbing was 6″ wide and 2″ deep, cutting to the bone and missing his femoral artery by only an inch. Not knowing what else to do, Celski pulled the embedded blade out his leg himself, and he felt it.

With the blade out, Celski was overwhelmed by what he saw. He described the interior of wound as being a rainbow of colors. “It was blue, purple, yellow, red, white. I could see my femur.”

Celski cried out.

The situation became worse as Celski was taken to a hospital. He was taken in an ambulance that for whatever reason was driven at a regular pace, without a siren, and even stopping at lights. At the hospital, there were no surgeons on duty. At a least one moment during the night, Celski believed that he was going to die.

Eventually Celski was operated on, with his muscles sewn back together. The opening in the flesh was closed with some 60 stitches. But to Celski, it seemed that his skating career was over.

However, Celski knew that he had qualified for the U.S. team – he just needed to get better. So he and his father went to Park City, Utah, to meet with Dr. Eric Heiden, the five-time gold medalist and team orthopedist for U.S. Speedskating. Heiden evaluated the injury and helped put together a treatment plan. After that Celski went to the U.S. Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to start the program. The plan would be overseen by staff doctor Bill Moreau. Moreau tried to be realistic, telling Celski, “J.R., I don’t know if you can do this.”

Celski was undeterred and began the rehabilitation program with gusto. He started with things like riding a stationary bike, walking, and doing hydro-therapy. Celski was increasingly pushed by his therapists and he pushed himself harder.

Celski’s training regimen consisted of 3 or 4 hours on the ice and then the same amount of time running, biking, weight training, doing coordination drills and stretching. He would do it six days a week. Relaxation would come with time spent in the sauna.

By October, Celski was able to stop using crutches and by the middle of November he was back on the ice. He was able to skate, but only very slowly. It was eight weeks until the Olympics.

With great determination and grit Celski persevered and miraculously brought himself back to a competitive level in the remaining two months. He would fall and even crash in practice, but his inner strength proved to be invincible. He conquered both the physical injury and the mental challenge that comes with such a devastating injury.

For Celski, the 6″ scar on his leg has become a reminder of just how far he has come. He wants to keep it gruesome so he won’t forget. He said, “People keep telling me to put vitamin E on it. I’m not going to do anything to it. I want to be reminded of what I overcame.”

Celski made it to Vancouver and there he made sure everyone else knew about the injury and the scar, and could see what he had dealt with. On his cell phone he would show anyone that would look a photo of the open wound before he was operated on.

There in Vancouver, Celski created another Olympic “Miracle on Ice”, winning the bronze medal in the 1500m. Where for some it would be a success to walk again or to be able to get back on skates again, for Celski the only worthy goal was to get an Olympic medal. Fortunately, he had that pair of incredible legs that could recover from such a horrendous injury in such an amazingly short time. Of course, it also helped that those legs were part of an incredible person with a spirit that wouldn’t let terrible adversity prevent him from realizing his dream.


JR Celski Tattoo Is Both Philippine And Polish

February 21, 2010

JR Celski shirtlessAfter his disqualification in the semifinals of the 1000m short track speedskating event at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, JR Celski unzipped his suit and revealed a large tattoo on his upper left chest. Filipinos and Filipino-Americans were quick to note that the basic design was that of the sun and star combination from the flag of the Philippines. What wasn’t so widely noted was that within the sun pattern is the coat of arms of the Republic of Poland.

JR Celski is a Filipino-American (or “Fil-Am”) through his mother, Sue. However, he’s also a Polish-American (as his last name clearly suggests) through his father, Robert. JR wanted to show both sides of his ethnic heritage by merging together in one tattoo the emblems of both of his ancestral homelands. He had the tattoo done several months before the Olympics and it took about three hours to apply.

Link to more about JR Celski.

JR Celski shirtless

J.R. Celski tattoo close-up

On the Philippine flag, in the white triange, is a sun with eight primary rays (composed of three rays each), and three five pointed stars arrayed around it. The eight primary rays represent the eight provinces that initiated the fight against Spanish colonialism in the 1896 Revolution: Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Laguna, and Batangas. The three stars represent the three major geographical divisions of the country: Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao.

The Polish coat of arms is a crowned white eagle, armed and displayed, on a field of red. The white eagle emblem originated when Poland’s legendary founder Lech saw a white eagle’s nest. The rays of the setting sun made the eagle’s wings appear to be tipped with gold. Lech was so enamored of the sight that he decided to place the image of the eagle on his emblem. The coat of arms appears on the Polish flag in one of the two official variations of it.

Philippine flagPolish eagle

Flag of the Philippines and Polish coat of arms

Besides the cultural significance of the tattoo, it also made some viewers of the scene on television to widen their eyes, as they saw that the cute little guy with the big smile had also become a hot young man. It looks like if he wants to, Celski can be going places other than in a circle on the ice. His talent and looks and charisma can be starting points for being a star like his teammate Apolo Anton Ohno has been before him. We will see more.


2010 Olympics Opening Ceremony

February 17, 2010

Thomas SaulgrainMy favorite aspect of the Olympics Opening Ceremony 2010 was the video projections. David Atkins, the executive producer of the show, used 70 video projectors and 38 still picture projectors to create vivid images on the floor of BC Place stadium, on hanging fabric used with the images to create the appearance of objects and structures, and on the audience themselves, who were clothed in white ponchos to make them part of the electronic canvas.

One of the notable uses of the video displayed on the floor was a segment within the “Landscape of Dreams” showcase of the regions and people of Canada. It was the salute to the prairie areas, and it featured National Circus School (Ècole nationale de cirque) student and aerialist Thomas Saulgrain (above) flying over projected images of fields of wheat. It was inspired by W.O. Mitchell’s “Who Has Seen The Wind”, from which Donald Sutherland spoke the introductory narrative.

During Saulgrain’s performance, the music that was played was Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, which is a song I really like. The expressiveness of the melody and the emotion of the lyrics were a great fit for this particular aerial ballet.

As much I liked the projections, which I must say I liked as well as the floor screen used in Beijing, I think its usage was too restrained during this segment. It didn’t need a lot more, but just a little more oomph would have been nice. Of course, with the TV coverage focused mainly on Thomas Saulgrain flying overhead, there might have been more that was seen by the audience at the stadium that was not seen by the TV audience. An instance of where the full potential of the system was shown was when the entire floor became one huge field of wheat (or was it prairie grass?)

Thomas Saulgrain

Another noteworthy example of the technology was a displayed image of whales swimming across the floor. It added some 3-D to the 2-D image with real spouting up in the air from the whales (below).

Olympics Opening Ceremony


Ryan Conklin Speaks To Congress

February 8, 2010

Ryan A. Conklin IAVA

During the week of February 8-12, 2010, Ryan Conklin will be working in Washington, D.C. with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) as part of a team to inform members of Congress about the organizations’s legislative priorities. The campaign is known as “Storm the Hill 2010” and it will help Congress to better understand the needs of our newest military veterans.

The 2010 priorities are modernizing the VA claims processing system, streamlining and simplifying the post 9/11 GI bill, securing jobs for veterans, eliminating combat stress stigma, and supporting better health care for female veterans.

Ryan will be part of “Team Bravo”, one of the seven teams of veterans that will be speaking to members of Congress and their staff.

You can learn more about the work that the IAVA is doing during this campaign and see how you help support it by going to www.stormthehill.org.


Ryan Speaks About His Return To Duty Special

November 4, 2009

Ryan Conklin in IraqIn a video clip from Iraq, Ryan Conklin spoke about the MTV television special that will chronicle his time after the end of The Real World Brooklyn. It will show his preparation to return to active service in the Army and then his deployment to Iraq and his experiences there. It will focus not only on him but also on other people in his life, relating how Ryan’s recall has profoundly affected them. The show is called Return To Duty and will premiere on MTV at 9pm on November 11th, 2009.

Ryan compared the timing of the premiere with what had happened one year prior. He reminded viewers that a year ago he had received the notification from the Army that he was being recalled from the Individual Ready Reserve. Now on the anniversary of that fateful event, Ryan wanted to do something he felt a lot more favorable about. He wants to show everyone what being in that kind of situation is like, and what it means to soldiers and their families.

Ryan explained that with his own camera he himself had recorded a lot of the raw footage. Then the resources of BMP were able to take the video and craft the hour special. Ryan has seen the finished product and he is very excited and very impressed by it. He needed to watch it for the first time by himself, as he knew it would be something that was very emotional for him.

Ryan said it is a great story. It’s one that is relatable to families that have experienced the same situation themselves, and for those families that haven’t, it should be a good education about what sending someone off to war is like.

(Mark your Ryan A. Conklin calendars for 11/11/09).


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