By SSG Ryan Hendrickson
I want to thank you so much for the chance to live a dream for two days. Mike Flood from the Seahawks asked me to write a bit on the situation and coming from Afghanistan, and I would like to give you my story, if you don’t mind.
Joining Special Forces and being a Green Beret was a goal of mine and a dream come true for me. Going through the year and a half of training there were so many times where I thought, how in the hell am I going to do this? But my team was always there to pick me up and stand by my side, as I was theirs when they were down. Just like any team or band of brothers would do, because we live our value, “Never Leave A Man Behind”, no matter where we are or what the situation may be.
After training I was ready to deploy, and like any guy in Special Forces, I was ready to fight and defend the United States and our way of life. Well, it was not long before my wish was granted and I was on my way to Afghanistan.
Arriving in Afghanistan in July, it was so hot and the heat makes it hard to do anything. Going on patrols and wearing all my gear, which was about 90 lbs in gear and weapons, was unbearable sometimes. Having a team and the meaning of team meant a lot to me, but the day of my first fire fight I knew the true meaning of team and teammate.
We were ambushed on a foot patrol in the Sar Tu valley. Two Afghan commandos and I were leading the patrol when the Taliban opened fire on us, pinning us down in open ground with little to no cover. I ran for the biggest rock I could find and took cover while firing back and letting all my training take over. At that point I was glad I took every chance to train and work hard, because when we were ambushed I was so scared and the adrenaline took my body over.
I had two choices, “fight or flight”, and just like on the football field I was not going to run from the bad guys, so I chose to stay behind that rock and fight; because it was not me I was fighting for, but it was my brothers to the left and to the right of me, and my life was worth their life, and we all feel that way.
|You are amazed what you can do when the safety and well being of your team is put in front of you.|
The major lesson I learned was, when the fighting is so intense you can’t even think, your training will take over and keep you alive. That’s why we train for combat, because the more you train the more it will take over when the chaos fills your brain. The same goes on a football team: the more you train the more it takes over when you’re so tired and dehydrated you can’t even think. You are amazed what you can do when the safety and well being of your team is put in front of you.
Living in Afghanistan with the thought that any minute could be my last, you have to find a way to release or you will drive yourself crazy. Just like every red blooded American football player, your team is a right of passage, and the week your team wins you’re on top. But lose a game to your friend’s team and you will have to go a whole week of hazing, like having to carry his ammo on a patrol, or take an extra turn of burning the crap barrel.
|Sports, when deployed, is a way to escape from the horrors of war.|
Everyone on the team knows I am a die hard Seahawks fan, and I would throw on the gloves with any of them who wanted to talk too much crap about my team. Sports, when deployed, is a way to escape from the horrors of war, and for that three hours of a football game that you are lucky enough to get to see you feel normal again, and the crazy, scary, insane, brutal, and gruesome part of war escapes your mind, because you are wrapped up in your team just like you were at home drinking a beer with friends. Sports… well, football for me is so much a part of your life you start counting down your time left in Afghanistan by the games your team has left; even on 3 to 5 day patrols, you call the base by satcoms asking if your team has won that week.
The week before I stepped on the IED, my team was planning for a major assault on a valley known to have Taliban fighters hiding there. Planning is hard because you can’t leave any little piece out, and with a 12-man team you have to know that every man has trained hard so the mission has a greater chance of success. Training, training, training… it seems so routine, and for some it is easier to cut corners; but that’s when you die, or worse, you get your brother killed and leave his wife and kids without a father. I know it seems dramatic, but you train for the worse, and I think the same goes with a football team. You train and never cut corners so you have a better chance of success, and no matter what play or mission you’re on, you always follow through.
We kicked off the mission in September and started making our way to the valley. By now I had been in so many firefights that the ones we were getting into in the valley seemed routine, and I was getting to the point where even though a gun fight is the biggest rush of your life, I was starting to get comfortable and paid less attention to the little things as I thought they were. On September 11th we made it to the base of the village, and the plan was with our Afghan commando units we were going to clear all the houses while checking for IEDs. We were told before the mission by villagers that the whole village was rigged with IEDs, and each house had IEDs protecting the Taliban fighters inside because they knew we were coming.
After clearing our way we came to a set of compounds we knew had Taliban fighters inside, and it was my team’s job to clear the compound. Knowing that IEDs were a threat, I cleared with a metal detector the area where we were at and cleared up to the door. My nerves were on end because I knew there were fighters inside, and I wanted to get inside as fast as we could.
It is very hard for me to come to terms with this thought that I have not shared with anyone, but I feel it is time for me to let go.
|As I went into the doorway I stepped on an IED, which blew me back out of the door, and at that moment I thought my life was over.|
I cut corners and did not clear the door like I knew I was supposed to, because my adrenaline, fear, and fact that I wanted to kill the guys who, in my mind killed my two friends, were in this house. I was number one man on the door, and as I went into the doorway I stepped on an IED, which blew me back out of the door, and at that moment I thought my life was over.
As I was laying there on the ground trying to figure out what happened, and letting the dust and dirt clear the air and get the ringing out of my ears and my eyesight back, I tried to stand up but could not. I grabbed my leg, and at that time my boot fell off and I realized my foot was still inside my boot.
I had just had my foot blown off.
Amongst the confusion of the blast and the uncertainty of the Taliban attack, my team rushed to my aid to stop the bleeding and administer life-saving actions on me. I was laying there on the ground, blood everywhere and my foot blown off because I decided to take the easy way out and cut corners and not clear the door like I was supposed to. I was medevac’d out by helicopter and flown to the nearest medical station, where I was told I had two to three minutes to live.
The thoughts of “what if” and “why me” bother me to this day, and the fact that cutting corners and not following through has been a major part of why I am in a wheelchair fighting to keep my leg.
|I know that playing football and combat are different, but they have more in common then you can ever know.|
I know that playing football and combat are different, but they have more in common then you can ever know. You are a team, and you go into combat every time you step foot on the football field on Sunday. You play for the man to the right and left of you, just like we fight for the man to our left and right. You train hard to win the same way we train hard to win, it’s just a different battlefield.
Being injured is the hardest thing to do for us. When you get injured you have to sit on the sidelines and watch your brothers go into battle, the same way I have to be here at a hospital and know my brothers are still there fighting for their lives.
I want to keep in touch, because you all touched my life in a way you can’t understand. Coming back from combat injured two month’s ago, there is so much going on in my head. Leaving my team behind while knowing there is still an enemy out there that wants to kill them, and now there is nothing I can do about it is really hard to deal with. I was very unsure about this trip to Seattle, as I was fresh from Afghanistan and still have a really hard time in crowds and around a lot of people; but the way I was taken in and made to feel at home really made it easy for me to relax a little and enjoy the gift I was given.
After I met the players and coaches, and how they accepted me and really cared about me and my situation, but mostly me as a person, really touched my heart and made me fill like I was home finally, and not still stuck in Afghanistan. Words can only tell you how I feel, but no one will ever know what you and the Seahawks did for me.
Thank you Sandy, Connie, Mike, Coach Carroll and Coach Quinn for all that you did for me. God has a special place in heaven for people like you. I hope my experience that I have lived through will help even one person along their way in life.
God Bless, Go Seahawks!
SSG Ryan Hendrickson