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NEWS | June 27, 2012

Charleston Airman lives to tell of war: earns two medals

By Senior Airman Dennis Sloan Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Staff Sgt. Douglas Ryan, 628th Explosive Ordnance Disposal noncommissioned officer in charge of training, stands at attention in front of the entire 628th Civil Engineer Squadron, his wife, a major general and the 628th Air Base Wing commander about to have a Bronze Star and Air Force Combat Action Medal pinned to his chest, June 27 at Joint Base Charleston.

Though the moment is a joyous one, the ceremony fills Ryan's mind with the chaotic memories and actions that resulted in his standing on the stage in front of his peers.

In 2010, Ryan was riding in a convoy with U.S. Marines through villages in Afghanistan. His mission - identify any improvised explosive devices planted by the Taliban. As the convoy of Joint EOD Rapid Response Vehicles moved through the small streets, clearing routes so supplies could get to the Marines, the vehicle he was in jumped five feet off the ground, engulfed in smoke and flames. As quickly as the vehicle lifted in the air it fell to the ground and landed in the crater that had been blasted below it. The patrol had run over a pressure plate setting off an IED.

In excruciating pain from hitting his head on the ceiling of the vehicle and deafened from the explosion, Ryan assessed the situation around him and saw his team leader was injured. He quickly gathered himself and began to conduct Combat Life Support on his team leader.

"The explosion was so loud that when the vehicle finally settled I was dazed and everything was moving in slow motion," said Ryan. "I had never been hit by an IED, so the experience was very jarring. I saw my team leader was hurt and quickly helped him."

Ryan was the only EOD specialist on the scene, and although he had sustained injuries, he had to make a report of the incident so the perpetrators could be caught.

Ryan accomplished his mission and kept his team safe all while suffering from a type II concussion due to the blast.

"Once the chaos was over and I had been medically treated, I knew I had a call to make," said Ryan. "I called my wife and let her know what had happened and that I was ok. She just cried and cried, but I assured her I was ok."

Ryan still had approximately four more months left on his deployment at this point. He was released from the hospital and within a week, he was back with the convoys protecting the Marines from what almost took his life, IEDs.

"I wasn't scared to go back out, everyone knew there were IEDs on the roads and it was my job to identify and eliminate them," said Ryan. "I have strong faith and I believe if God is on my side, what do I have to fear?"

Ryan experienced two more IED explosions to vehicles he was in during the deployment along with surviving more than 10 fire-fights, earning him the Air Force Combat Action Medal.

"Most of the time my job was to look for man-made explosives, but sometimes I found myself looking down the sites of my rifle shooting at the Taliban," said Ryan.

Fast forward to 2011, Ryan found himself in a CH-47 Chinook on his way to a remote village in Afghanistan.

Ryan and a team of U.S. and Afghanistan Soldiers dismounted from the helicopter and took off on foot into the small village. The teams' mission - capture a high valued Taliban target. Ryan's mission - identify and disarm any improvised explosives the Taliban may have constructed.

As the team approached the village, Taliban members opened fire. The team took cover and returned fire. Ryan quickly switched from IED detection specialist to rifleman and joined in the fire fight.

When the dust and smoke cleared from the intense fighting, two Taliban members were killed. Ryan cleared the scene and disposed of any explosive ordnance.

Ryan successfully executed 93 combat EOD missions throughout his second seven-month long deployment to Afghanistan as an EOD team member and team leader. He provided expert EOD support during 42 cordon and search missions. In total, he conducted 3,300 hours outside the wire operations in a civilian area heavily populated with Taliban forces, earning him a Bronze Star.

"My battalion commander felt my actions and leadership roles were deserving of a Bronze Star," said Ryan. "It wasn't until I was about to go home from Afghanistan that I found out I was put in for the medal. I think of the men and women who have received this medal and how much they did and it makes me honored and humbled to be receiving this medal as well."

Ryan now heads up the training of all EOD specialists at JB Charleston when he is not deployed.

"My goal is to make the EOD members I train better than myself, so if they ever find themselves in my situation, they'll react accordingly," Ryan said.

Ryan has deployed three times now, once to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan. In addition to the Air Force Combat Action Medal and Bronze Star he received today, he has also received the Army Combat Action Badge and the Navy/Marines Corps Combat Action Ribbon as well as multiple Army Commendation medals.

"I have to give a lot of credit to my wife, who is the best spouse to have during a deployment," said Ryan with a smile. "She goes through a lot more than I do having to wait on calls like the one she got while I was in Afghanistan. She deserves these medals as much as I do because without her and God I would not be able to do what I do."

Ryan's wife, Bekah, accompanied him on stage after his medals were pinned on.

"It was amazing to see my husband recognized and presented with his awards," said Bekah. "Doug is such a selfless and humble person. I know my husband and today he isn't just thinking about being honored, he is reflecting on his brothers that didn't come home. It is not easy by any stretch of the imagination to have a spouse that has such an intense career and calling, but I would rather have four months out of the year with my husband than a year with anyone else. I'm always a proud Air Force wife, but maybe a little more so today!"