The word "hero" is sometimes applied quite literally, which is the case with Madras native Ryan Craig.
He joined the Army after doing a stint as a carpenter and was nearly killed by a sniper's bullet that pierced his combat helmet during a patrol in Kabul. Ryan, 23, was scrambling to assist a pair of injured soldiers after his unit came under fire from insurgents when he was hit. A brawny young man who played both offensive and defensive line for the Madras High School football team, Ryan literally carried the big gun in his patrol, a .308 caliber, Mach 48, designed to pin down enemy soldiers and keep them hunkered.
According to Ryan's mother, Jennifer Miller, when Ryan's fellow soldiers were hit by enemy fire, Ryan rushed to their aid and opened fire, rather than take cover, allowing others soldiers in the unit to help evacuate the wounded. It was an act of selflessness that earned Ryan the Purple Heart, which was bestowed upon him during a recent ceremony at Bethesda Naval Hospital with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in attendance. His actions came as no surprise to his mother, who said that Ryan sat her down before his deployment to Afghanistan, his second tour of duty since joining the Army in 2008, and told his mother that he expected to see intense combat in Afghanistan. Ryan didn't presume that he would escape without injury. Even so, he was adamant that he wouldn't leave any of his fellow soldiers behind on the battlefield or the streets of Afghanistan.
"He told me he wasn't leaving his buddies and if that meant sacrificing his life, that was what he was going to do," Miller said.
Those were hard words for a mother to hear, but that's how her son had been raised - to live and to die with courage and integrity.
In the end, all the members of Ryan's unit survived the incident in Kabul. Ryan was the only one whose injuries were severe enough to require evacuation. Since that time, Ryan has been slowly recovering, but making significant progress, given the nature of his injuries. After coming out of a coma, Ryan began speaking in January. Miller knew she had her son back soon thereafter. According to Miller, Ryan turned to her one day while lying in his hospital bed last month and spoke. Miller was passing her son a slice of honeydew from the hospital cafeteria when Ryan told her that he remembered how she had talked to him and rubbed fruit on his lips while he was asleep - something she had done while he lay in a coma.
"I was stunned and in total awe; I just started bawling," Miller said.
Ryan is currently recuperating from his injury at a military hospital in Florida.
Ryan Craig, 23
U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division