SHINING A LIGHT ON PTSD
Numerous combat veterans in all branches of the United States military have served their country and suffered from post-traumatic stress (PTSD) from their missions.
Ryan Ward served in the Navy from 2003 to 2010. Now he has chosen to shed light on the issue of PTSD, which has affected him personally and significantly. Ward shared what he learned from his own experiences to help other veterans who fight with their own demons after coming home to civilian life.
Ward’s first assignment for the Navy was at Pearl Harbor, where he was a gate guard. He later served in bike patrol, a road patrol, worked with canines, and then harbor patrol. After serving approximately two years, he received the choice between Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan. He chose the former because his good friend and leader, MA1 Walker (Rocco), was also going there.
“He was a really good guy and good leader, so I went with him to Guantanamo,” he said.
Ward served as Master of Arms, and eventually, he was part of an Army joint task force special response team in Guantanamo Bay detention camp, located on the coast of Guantanamo Bay in southeastern Cuba.
Ward went through training for the detention camp in Gulfport, Mississippi. Upon Arrival in Guantanamo, he was put on a special response team and attended training Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. After the first year, they extended his assignment one more year to train the next incoming group.
He was serving on the special response team in four different camps, which involved dealing with issues like hunger strikes by prisoners and high-stress situations. Ward noted that there were prisoners of all nationalities — including high-ranking officials who had funded terrorism.
“Our team’s main function was escorting detainees and responding to critical incidents, where most of the stuff happened that would later affect him,” Ward pointed out.
He pointed out that he had seen a multitude of difficult things, resulting in PTSD after returning to civilian life. He was often the number one man on the team to respond to incidents. They were trained be aware and diffuse situations as they arose.
After serving in Guantanamo Bay, Ward had a choice of orders between Maine and Maryland. He chose Maine. It was his last assignment, and he got out of the service in 2010.
Ward shared that the biggest thing about PTSD is that it takes time to work through it. He said that 80% to 90% of the soldiers who struggle with PTSD use drugs or alcohol to avoid thinking about terrors from their service. Suicidal thoughts are also an issue that he and many other veterans have dealt with.
Ward has applied himself to work through his PTSD and searched the many resources available in the Central Oregon Area. Ward currently has a therapy dog, which has been tremendously helpful for him. He and a group of veterans are also forming a non-profit called ReEngage, to help veterans who have undergone similar combat experiences.
“One thing is, it does not matter what branch you were in — if you need the help, reach out. It does not have to be combat related,” he stated.
He added that he is considered a combat veteran “because of my service in Guantanamo. So, they designated me that for what we did. I do not consider myself one. The VA does. I don’t because I was not down range.”
When asked what Ward thinks is the biggest consideration that prevents veterans from getting help, he replied, “pride.”
“Not wanting to look weak.”
He added that once you are connected, you realize it does not matter.
“When you first get out, it is loss of identity — big time. I think 50% of the guys or more do not have a career waiting for them or something waiting for them. Because it is a loss of identity because you are part of something that is just so big and disciplined and fun — and scary. It encapsulates everything. So, when you get out, you have none of that. You go to nothing.”
According to the National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report for 2022, in 2020, there were 6,146 Veteran suicides. Ward said that nationally, approximately 22 veterans per day commit suicide.
Ward calls Prineville home, where he lives with his wife and daughter, surrounded by his grandchildren. He gained a large family when he married, and it is apparent how much he loves his life.