By James BrabenecMarch 14, 2019
FORT SILL, Okla., March 14, 2019 -- About midway through his military service Capt. Ray Ryan was accepted into the Army's Green to Gold Program. Thus began a challenge that included juggling a growing family, four part-time jobs, Army ROTC commitments, and his studies with the intent to become an Army chaplain.
In reality, his program could have been named Green to Gold to Green as the long days and nights took its toll on him.
His motivation to succeed developed growing up in a family very familiar with military service. Combine that with the nightly news clips the family watched as Desert Storm swept across Iraq into Baghdad, and the seeds of a career first germinated.
"My family is very, very patriotic," said Ryan, a threat analyst for the Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate here. Watching the news reports with his parents, Ryan said he vividly recalls his parents saying, "We're supporting our troops."
Ryan's initial foray into the military culture came with his mother's recommendation to join Junior ROTC in high school.
"I had no clue what it was," he said.
But, he enjoyed the experience, which contributed to him enlisting in the Army following graduation.
"I was very immature and wasn't the top-notch Soldier at first, as I hated being corrected," he said. He admitted he sometimes followed bad examples and then got mad when he was corrected.
"I finally realized, if I don't want to be corrected, don't be wrong," he said.
Leaving behind his stubborn ways, Ryan embraced the Army. "I always found it fascinating while I was in the airborne community, everyone in the unit would be tired, fatigued, dirty with camouflage on our faces and no shower for days. Then we would go home that same day, get some rest, shower, put on our dress uniforms to attend a military ball in respect and honor. I found those extreme polar opposites fun."
He also made the most of opportunities to advance, which came nearly as often as the frequent deployments. He attained staff sergeant after eight years of service and enjoyed seeing the stripes increase on his uniform. Still, while training to be in full-time ministry, Ryan first dreamed of becoming an Army chaplain.
With his Green to Gold application approved, he followed his plan and delved into his studies at Campbell University, N.C. His first challenge arose quickly as he received a scholarship with a basic stipend to cover his college expenses. This proved difficult as he was married with three children and a fourth on the way. To meet his family's needs Ryan worked his way through night school cleaning houses and his church, delivering pizzas, and working in his church office.
Despite his willingness to work hard and follow a detailed plan, Ryan's hectic lifestyle landed him in the hospital overcome by exhaustion.
Ultimately, he didn't realize his dream to become a chaplain, but he graduated magna cum laude with a history degree.
"I had a vision, something I felt, tasted, and smelled every day," he said. "It wasn't to graduate or walk across the stage, it was to complete my master's degree. I fell short of that, but still found success."
As he pinned on his lieutenant ranks, he recalled where his career began.
"It gave me a sense of what enlisted Soldiers go through. I really enjoyed the NCO Corps, and as a lieutenant believe I valued NCOs maybe a little more than my peers did," said Ryan.
Gaining experience as an officer, he said he also began to appreciate officers' skill sets.
"I started learning the amount of effort and mental capacity it takes for planning to a detailed level," said Ryan of something he applied to operations orders he wrote. "When I started understanding those tools officers use to make NCOs successful, that's when I realized I can do this job."
Part of this was responding to a different set of stressors than enlisted Soldiers face. Instead of a private's life where every moment of the day was accounted for, officers operate in an environment where time isn't as closely accounted for, he said. "But, tasks are watched extremely close. It's not as much a matter of when you work, but how much you get done."
Another challenge Ryan overcame led to a diagnosis that he had attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder.
"I never realized how much that impacted me before," he said. "The main thing I've learned is, if you need help, get it. Don't try to do it all by yourself. Whether it's a learning disability or a mental or behavioral health issue, don't be ashamed, get help. It's more shame to fail because you refused to ask for it."
Ryan said it took him becoming a company commander and telling a Soldier this to take his own advice and get help.
"My enlisted career was good, but it would have been a lot better had I asked for help back then," said Ryan.
In his remaining military career, Ryan's sight is set on competing for major and completing his master's degree. He also looks forward to getting back to his primary job in counter-intelligence.
For Soldiers seeking to jump into the officer ranks, Ryan said it all starts in writing.
"Put your plan on paper and refine it every day. Look at that plan every day, extended from start to completion, and follow on. Look at tasks to get done, even if you can't do them. Check your timeline and make sure you know when to start each task. Literally, if that's what you want to do, you have to live it and breathe it. Being an officer, like every other job in the Army is, do you have the desire to put forth the diligence to make it happen?"