Tuesday, June 3. 2008
An Interview With: Ryan Kareliusson
Ping: Hello. So if you could start by telling us your name, birth date, war served, and branch of service.
Ryan: My name is Ryan James Kareliusson. I was in the marines. My birthday is May 17, 1984. My unit was MWSS 373, which was Marine Wing Support Squadron 373, and I served two terms in Iraq: ’04-’05 and ’06-’07.
Ping: Ok. So I guess umm.. we will start with a few biographical details. So where and when were you born?
Ryan: I was born on May 17, 1984 in Altadena, California.
Ping: And, um, can you tell us something about your parents, siblings, you know. How many siblings, if any?
Ryan: I have two brothers. My dad is from Sweden, my mom is from Australia, and two older brothers.
Ping: Um, so what were you doing before entering the service?
Ryan: I went to Arcadia High.
Ping: Oh you went to Arcadia High? Ok. What year did you graduate?
Vivian: So were you drafted or did you enlist in the army?
Ryan: I enlisted. I enlisted my junior year of high school.
Vivian: And like, what made you make this decision?
Ryan: It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do as a little kid and I just knew I was going to do it.
Ping: Did you have any other family members who served in the army?
Ryan: No, I was the first one.
Ping: How did your parents feel about that?
Ryan: I would say scared but proud.
Ping: That sounds all right. So, um, why did you choose that branch—the marines?
Ryan: From what I knew at the time and what I still know is they have the most pride in themselves, they have the most honesty, they’re the first ones in there, they have the courage to do what’s right all the time, so, that’s the organization I wanted to be a part of.
Charissa: Did any of your friends from school enlist with you?
Ryan: There were two other seniors from Arcadia High that enlisted the marines, yes.
Ping: Um, can you tell us about your early days—sort of your early days in the training camp?
Ryan: Well, it was a lot of—then, it wasn’t so much fun. But looking back on it, it was a lot of fun. It was a good experience. Uh, you don’t see the values that they’re teaching you while you’re in boot camp. But later on, maybe down the road a year and a half you’re looking back and I realize that it was really nice. It’s just really good training that they offer.
Ping: What did you actually do, uh, like as a part of your training?
Ryan: You learn to do everything. You learn to overcome your fears, you learn how to adapt and overcome the different situations. They’ll make you not fall, and still think on your feet so you…you learn to overcome certain obstacles and all these barriers that normally make someone just give up.
Ping: I once heard of training with a toothbrush. Hehe. Did you ever do that?
Ryan: No. Not that one.
Ping: Not that one? All right. Hehe.
Ryan: Just cleaning.
Ping: Cleaning? All right then, um. Do you have any specialized training in anything?
Ryan: My specialized training was to be a welder. They taught me all the different versions of welding.
Ping. Um, ok so um. How was it like adapting to the lifestyle? Was it hard for you?
Ryan: It wasn’t hard for me to adapt to the lifestyle. It definitely is different, and some guys, yeah, it’s definitely hard to adapt to that lifestyle but I don’t know. I have kind of like this “I can do anything” sort of mentality, so I adapted pretty well.
Vivian: What was the hardest, like was there anything really difficult for you to adapt to?
Ryan: I don’t really like the “wake up at 4 a.m. and go run,” but other then that, you get used to it and it becomes like second nature.
Ping: What about homesickness? Any of that?
Ryan: Oh yeah, there’s a lot of that, especially when you’re in Iraq. You just want to be home and want to be around friends again but you get used to it and you deal with it. But yes, there is a little bit of homesickness.
Ping: Ok so can you tell us about your actual wartime service? Where exactly did you serve, and sort of the details of how it was like over there?
Ryan: Both tours I did I went to a base called Alteqada in Iraq. And it’s in the Alabambar providence. Between the triangle of Ramati, Flusia, and Habania, it’s right in the middle. So we did a lot of convoys through the cities, we improved roads, we built electrical lines, we started improving the whole area there, we did security convoys, two escorts, we ran QRF missions for armed forces missions, anything like that. My last tour, the helicopters got shut down. We had to respond and clean up and assist basically. Just repair heliopads, stuff like that.
Ping: Did you actually engage in combat?
Ryan: I did not.
Vivian: So was your main purpose there mainly like improving conditions and stuff?
Ryan: Yeah improving like conditions, special air bases, like a big flat line. Our unit is meant to support that line so they just have out unit there to support the flat line. And yeah just run convoys and support their role out there.
Ping: What about the people there? I mean, did they want you guys there? What was the reaction from them?
Ryan: I didn’t meet too many. The close courier people go out in the city and everything but we are hanging around the base. But I know the people think we are really nice, they’re happy we’re there.
Ping: Um, did you witness anything that’s actual um—so you didn’t engage in combat, but did you witness any of that? Or got even close to it?
Ryan: There was some action by our base a lot. Like we see missiles and rockets all around us.
Ping: As for actually being in there yourself you weren’t?
Ping: What about um, did you make any friends there?
Ryan: The camaraderie is great. It was a lot of fun to be a part of. It’s just, I don’t know—you just don’t get that anywhere else.
Ping: It’s kind of like, everyone has each other’s backs kind of?
Ryan: Yes. Pretty much so.
Ping: Are you still friends with them now? Do you still keep in contact?
Ryan: Yes, I still keep in contact with a couple guys from my unit down in San Diego.
Ping: How did you keep in contact with your family back when you were part of the service?
Ryan: In boot camp, all you really could do was write letters. So, that’s all you do. You get like only a few phone calls the whole time you’re there. We just basically wrote letters back and forth and it’s pretty quick. It’s pretty decent. And in Iraq, the first time I was just writing letters. But now if you go there, they have the internet so you can just email, you can call, you can use mail, whichever one. Pretty easy now.
Vivian: Were you ever sort of homesick?
Ping: We already asked that one hehe. And he was—a little. Did you get any videos from home? Like people in your town, or I guess our town, Arcadia. Because I know for the Red Cross Youth Corp we sent out a video for the Marines saying we support you guys.
Ryan: I don’t think we got a video, but we got care packages every once in a while. From different groups.
Ping: What about recreation? Like what did you do when you were off duty?
Ryan: Basically, you tried to sleep the time you had. So it’s usually sleep, work or eat.
Ping: I see. What did you eat?
Ryan: There’s a cafeteria there. So we had like, standard food. Just regular food.
Ping: What about like, on Thanksgiving or holidays? Did you get like anything fancy then or no?
Ryan: They tried to—but it was basically just regular food.
Ping: In the documentaries and films we see on Thanksgiving they would get you know, the turkey, the gravy, and all that.
Ryan: Well, we had turkey and gravy, but also, if you’re not there on time then it’s all gone.
Ping: Did you fall into a routine? Like was there a daily thing for you?
Ryan: There was sort of a schedule, but they try to not make it so much like a schedule because they don’t want you to get complacent. That way you will always be on your toes. But, there was usually a work schedule. We had a schedule that we kept up with in the maintenance unit. Like we had to get a certain amount of vehicles out. But we always ended up working extended hours, anyway.
Ping: And you usually woke up around 4, you said?
Ryan: Oh. Well that was during training. But we usually wake up 5, 6 in the morning, go exercise, and then get ready for the day.
Ping: And when did you—when did the day end for you?
Ryan: Some days we could work late, so it could be 9, 10 o’clock when we’re off work, at night. And then uh, go eat and go to bed. So usually our day was about 5 to midnight.
Ping: That’s pretty harsh. So when your term ended for you, and when you came back, how was it sort of like assimilating back to normal life?
Ryan: It’s different but it’s—if you know how to take it, it’s not that hard. Like I knew changes, like what it felt like, because it was like you went to sleep for a really long time and then you just wake up and kind of like, everything’s changed. Because that’s what it feels like. Like, you’re in a time warp when you’re there you know? Once you get back, everything’s changed: there’s different buildings, there’s new laws, everything changes while you’re gone. So you just get back and you just have to take it in slowly. If you try to overwhelm yourself, you’ll freak out.
Ping: The adjusting you know—it’s like all that action over there. And nothing much going on here right?
Ryan: Yeah. The adrenaline rushes don’t happen as much.
Ping: So what do you do now?
Ryan: Right now I work at a hospital as a security guard.
Ping: Are you thinking about re-enlisting or going back into that again?
Ryan: Um, if they need me to go back, I want to do college and then come back as an officer. But right now, I just want to do law enforcement.
Ping: You served two terms right? Was that by your own will? Or were there certain laws calling you back?
Ryan: No, that was just the schedule of deployment for my unit. I volunteered and tried to get on the other units that were basically considered sister units of my unit. I tried to volunteer to go to Iraq with them at other times but they didn’t need me.
Charissa: So do you have a favorite memory from your whole experience?
Ryan: Uh, not really.
Charissa: As in you like everything, or you don’t like everything?
Ryan: I liked most of it.
Ping: It’s like an experience to cherish forever kind of a thing right?
Ryan: Yes. I don’t regret any of it and I think everyone should serve at least one term in the military. But that’s just a personal belief of mine.
Ping: What can you tell us about the war now—how is it going, how do you feel about it?
Ryan: I just think the news only portrays everything that’s bad about that happens over there and they should try broadcasting all the good that all the other military units are doing out there. Like improving the roads, improving things over there that they didn’t have before.
Ping: I think they should show us what’s going on with the actual troops over there.
Charissa: Do you have any experiences with any of the Iraqi civilians?
Ryan: Not too much. It was pretty limited.
Ping: How has this affected your life? What did you learn from your time as a marine?
Ryan: Well, when I first joined I was really shy, really shy, really quiet. I was just—I basically kept to myself. Now I’m more eager, now I’m more confident in myself. Now I have the “I can do anything” mentality because I have leadership who gave that to me. I respect them for that and I think overall it has made me a better person.
Ping: Did you have any leadership skills? Like were you ever in charge?
Ryan: I was a squad leader. I was a corporal in the marines so I had a couple guys under me. And yeah I had all the security convoy training; that was one of my special duties. For my unit I had all the security training, all the weapon training, all the tactics. I learned tactical M-16 tactics and I was also instructor for that. So I trained my guys and lead them if we did have to go do something, if the job did call for it.
Vivian: So do you have to call for the promotion or do you just have to work your way up?
Ryan: You do things to rate the promotion. Like there’s MCI’s, which are books, and you basically take tests on them. And you turn them in, and you get so many points for doing them. And also how well you do on the PFT physical fitness test, it gives you a score. And that also determines if you get promoted. And then, if you do any special duties it gives you points.
Ping: What kind of physical training did you actually do? Like was there rope climbing?
Ryan: You do rope climbing in the beginning, but we didn’t really do it after we joined our unit or anything but the goal is to do twenty pull-ups, one hundred sit-ups in two minutes, and an eighteen minute three mile. That’s the goal. Not too many can do the eighteen minute three mile. Most people get the twenty pull-ups and the hundred-sit ups because it’s pretty easy.
Ping: Is it like a continual thing? Like you have to keep maintaining it?
Ryan: You have to score every six months. Twice a year you have to go for a score on it.
Vivian: So like what happens if you’re not able to reach the score?
Ryan: You go on a physical program—well actually a more intense program that you actually get watched. Well, it depends on what unit but you have to PT more (which is physical test).
Charissa: Were there any women in your unit?
Ryan: There was like two or three. I don’t know, there’s a handful of them I guess.
Charissa: And do they have to fulfill the same requirements?
Ryan: Theirs are a little different. Probably the same hundred sit-ups. I don’t know on the run, maybe not the eighteen minute three mile. But they don’t have to do the twenty pull-ups; they have to hold themselves up there for a certain amount of time. I forget what it is. Ninety-five seventy-five seconds or something.
Vivian: Do they have the same responsibilities as you?
Ping: You know I think, that’s really all we wanted to know right?
Vivian: If you were to recommend people who might join the army, what would you say to them?
Ryan: Well if they’re thinking about it, just go for it because it’s only four years. What are you going to do for four years? Maybe go to PCC, get a AA? Go to the marines. Get money for it. They’ll pay for you to go. And I’ll train you a lot better.
Charissa: What is the most valuable thing you think you got out of the whole experience?
Ryan: All the training, the leadership that I took from the good leaders we had. Well there’s good leaders and bad leaders but hopefully I didn’t take anything from the bad leaders. And, just yeah. All the camaraderie, all the—our creed is honesty, courage, and commitment so…yeah.
Charissa: As far as schooling, did they drill you mentally also?
Charissa: What types of things did you have to learn?
Ryan: They teach you everything: the history, code and conduct; they teach you everything you need to know to live in the marines. And they also emphasize that you should do schooling on the side after you finish training. And you should try if you can.
Vivian: This is sort of different, but say like, you don’t fulfill your responsibilities, what kinds of punishments did you guys have?
Ryan: It all depends. If you look it up there’s the UCMJ uniform code in military justice. Everybody follows under it. It doesn’t matter if you’re army, navy, marine, or whatever. It doesn’t matter. You fall under it so—kind of how bad it was, what it is, and a lot of it is up to the unit’s discretion, how far they want to take it.
Vivian: So can you sort of give us an example maybe?
Ryan: I don’t know what you want, like say if you’re late to work a lot there’s something called office hours where you basically have to show up for work after work hours and clean—do whatever needs to be done. And everyone else tells you what to do.
Charissa: Did you hear of any interesting stories of what happened to your squad while you were in Iraq?
Ryan: Uh, not really.
Ping: I guess that’s it for us. Right? Well, thank you so much.