Luck has a way of favoring those who don’t depend on it.
“In the military, I was one of those guys who didn’t want to hear excuses,” Ryan Grams says. “And when I got out, I knew I didn’t want to make excuses for myself. So I got a job. I went to school. I married a great woman. I would definitely consider myself successful, and I thank my lucky stars I’ve gotten this far.”
Wounded Warrior Project™ (WWP) helped Ryan start that chain of “lucky” events with its Warriors to Work™ program. Warriors to Work helped Ryan with his resume and interview skills, and matched his talents with employer needs. Ryan now works as a product specialist for a company that builds high pressure waterjet cutting machines.
His ties to the military stay strong through his active-duty Army wife, Nicole, a lieutenant stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington. “She keeps me going and helps me remember that I am important and needed in her life,” Ryan says. “She is my rock. Without her, I would be lost.”
Ryan, a former Army forward observer, knows exactly how close he came to losing everything.
“I was very, very lucky,” says Ryan, who spent 27 months in Iraq. “If it had happened any other way — if I had been facing another direction or if I’d been 5 feet away — I probably wouldn’t be here right now.”
The staff sergeant is describing just one in a series of events in Iraq that could have done much more damage than they did. And they did plenty, as it is. “On numerous occasions, I received blasts from IEDs and RPGs (improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades). A phosphorous grenade was another. I received minor burns from the explosion, which left me unconscious.”
But it isn’t Ryan’s physical wounds that have thrown the biggest challenges his way. It is something many warriors of the post-9/11 conflicts live with: the invisible wounds of war. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will long trouble our nation’s veterans, as they have Ryan.
“The biggest thing is I have learned patience,” Ryan says. “I’ve had a pretty big problem with irritation. It’s very easy to get irritated, and that leads to anger, and anger leads to everything else beyond that. I still have a lot of nightmares.”
Ryan continues to push forward, making progress and not excuses. He graduated at the top of his college class, summa cum laude, and is about 70 percent finished with work toward his master’s degree.
“There are many veterans who have not been as fortunate as I have,” he said. “I’m aware of this, and I try to use my accomplishments as motivation.”
When asked what advice he would give to a newly injured service member, Ryan is quick to point them toward WWP. “There is no quick fix to the way you feel. It’s going to take time. Keep yourself busy because when you sit around and think about things, it’s never a good thing. Get out there. Volunteer. Make friends. Make connections. You’re not alone. You’re not the first to go through this, and you won’t be the last.”
The best advice always seems to come from those who have followed it themselves. That’s what Ryan Grams did. And he’s got quite a lot to show for it.