SPC Ryan James Day
By Jim, Ryan's Dad
This is not your typical story of PTSD and depression. This is a story of a young man’s unrelenting pursuit to take on and overcome every challenge he could face. It is also a story of a soldier’s activation without deactivation, where the mind is turned on to a heightened sense of stimulation and readiness with no off switch. No methodology to provide relief when you’re no longer in training or on the battlefield. A manifestation of PTSD I wasn’t aware even existed.
Ryan’s life was full of self-imposed challenges. Things he just had to prove to himself he could accomplish. Some ordinary and some extraordinary. Ordinary things like sports; including soccer, lacrosse, and baseball, where he learned to use his physical strength and determination to overcome his lack of “finesse” on the field. Basically…he would just run people over. That’s it. Even in baseball where that really isn’t part of the sport at all. He even played a couple of high school lacrosse games with a broken leg.
When the idea of joining the military came up, Ryan’s interest peaks and he sums up everything in one sentence…” OK, but I will only join if I can be a part of Special Forces”. Average was not in his vocabulary. He chose the Army Rangers as his goal. He began working out immediately, laser focused on strengthening his body and mind. He takes the AFSAB and scores 129 out of 140.
He whizzed through the 15 weeks of basic training and “turns blue” the day before his 18th birthday. Two weeks after that graduation, he heads over to Airborne School. He sustains a pretty bad shoulder injury on one jump, but he refuses to stop him from graduating with his class and we pin on his wings 4 weeks later at an awesome ceremony. Next was the Ranger Assessment and Selection Process or RASP. RASP is basically controlled torture geared towards testing the fortitude of a man to the extreme limits. He tells us stories of sleep deprivation, sheer exhaustion, flash grenades, flashing lights, all designed to make you accomplish a mission under the most stressful conditions. He explains that he just kept telling himself…”they can do anything they want, but they can’t stop time”. Pretty insightful for an 18 year old.
Eight weeks later and only 8 months after starting basic training, Ryan earns his tan beret and 75th Ranger Regiment scroll. He is exhausted, but flushed with pride. We are overwhelmed. He has become 1 of only 3500 active duty Rangers in the WORLD in a military of over 1.3 million soldiers. Truly extraordinary.
Ryan would deploy twice to Afghanistan. The first time fittingly on the 4th of July in 2012. We were terrified. About 6 weeks into the tour, our phone rings at 3:00AM. Our hearts sink. Every parent knows that 3AM calls are never about good things. I answer and hear a fast message from Ryan “I can’t talk, but I am ok in case you hear anything. I love you…click”. We feel helpless. I panic and run down to the computer and start searching. Around 5AM a story pops up on the BBC news page. Ryan’s FOB had been attacked by a suicide truck bomb, but thankfully no coalition forces were killed and he was proud he did his job to defend their position. More extraordinary stuff to us. He calls it doing his job.
Shortly after his return from deployment, Ryan earns his Ranger tab in the summer of 2013 after attending the leadership school that imposes 12 weeks of the most challenging training in 3 phases across rugged terrain. He sails through Phase 1 and 2 and almost makes it through phase 3 for a clean sweep. Unfortunately, he needed to repeat Phase 3 with the next class along with several of his colleagues. This causes him to miss his deployment to Afghanistan, which doesn’t make him happy. Another missed chance to relieve that pressure.
From there, being a Ranger becomes just a job for Ryan. He deploys one more time in 2014 and is upset that they didn’t get to engage in any real missions. Again, no way to release that pent up energy.
Here is the part we didn’t understand until it was too late. These men train all the time for the opportunity to fight. Without the adrenalin rush of defending something, their minds wander. Idle time is not their friend. With 2 years to go before he gets out, Ryan set his energy and laser focus on planning his exit strategy. He reads books on finance and economics and decides he wants to work on Wall Street. He plans to enrol at Rutgers University back in NJ, use his GI Bill to get his degree, and move on with his life.
When you consider the extraordinary things I’ve outlined above as routine, the mundane everyday world cannot keep up. Nothing can stop that insatiable need for the extremes an “activated” mind has been programmed to feed off. There are no outlets to otherwise channel this energy. No means to siphon off the desire for dopamine-based rewards. In another fit of boredom and attempt to feel that rush, Ryan picks up his weapon and decides to take the ultimate gamble…a 17% chance with his life, and he loses. Who knows what would have happened if he was on the 83% side of that equation. The fact is we will never know.
We miss you son.