During his three deployments, Air Force Staff Sgt. Douglas Ryan has been blown up three times, been through so many firefights that he's lost count and watched a soldier a few steps away get blown up by a homemade bomb.
Ryan, 31, is from Norton, Ohio, and is part of the 628th EOD unit at Charleston Air Force Base. Ryan said faith has long been a guiding part of his life and is why he joined the Air Force — to be part of something larger than he is. Originally interested in combat medicine, he ended up in the high-adrenaline field of explosive-ordnance disposal.
Troops in EOD call themselves “operators,” a term also used by Special Forces units, and Ryan says EOD work provides a similar adrenaline rush. “You get to the point where you want to deploy.”
But the risks are immense. As improvised explosive devices became the insurgents' weapon of choice in Iraq and Afghanistan, EOD operators were integrated into combat units. In 2010, Ryan was in an armored troop carrier in the Helmand area of Afghanistan when the vehicle rolled over an IED.
The blast lifted the truck off the ground about 6 feet. He hit his head against the ceiling and felt the blast forces go through his body. He moved in what felt like slow motion to perform first aid on two injured troops in the truck. He suffered a moderate concussion and was sent to a combat hospital for a week to heal.
After being cleared, he was blown up two more times by IEDs. One time he was walking with troops when one of them, about 15 yards away, stepped on a bomb, killing him. The blast forces also hit Ryan, but he wasn't injured. “I didn't have any physical effects,” he recalled. “I was just sad.”
Last summer, after 93 combat EOD missions during his second deployment, Ryan was awarded a Bronze Star.