79 : Identifying/Mitigating Risk & A Veteran's Transition After Roadside Bomb, Ryan Miller

Ryan Miller medically retired as a Captain from the US Army in 2012 due to severe wounds he received in Iraq, which ultimately led to the amputation of his left leg.  After becoming dependent on opiate painkillers throughout his recovery he now advocates for cannabis use.  Ryan graduated with a degree in Nuclear Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point and earned a masters degree in both business administration and public policy from Harvard.  I met Ryan while in Pittsburgh at the World Medical Cannabis Convention and Expo for my interview with Eben Britton.  I felt an immediate connection to Ryan when I walked up to him at the C.A.M.O. booth and he began to educate me on the many benefits that cannabis and hemp have to offer to the world.  It wasn't until later on in our conversation that I found out the he was wearing a prosthetic leg under his jeans.

Ryan grew up in Staten Island, NY and defined himself as a football player at Stuyvesant High School, which he described as a school full of overachievers.  As a fellow fullback/linebacker, Ryan was never afraid of a little contact. During this episode, Ryan takes us through some moments of his high school glory days including a play where he suffered a compression sprain of his spine and forced him out of the remainder of that game.  Besides that injury, Ryan stayed relatively healthy and surgery-free until the wounds he suffered on the battlefield during his military career.

"All your live's have just changed dramatically, That said, we have to lab, we have to execute."

In addition to his influential uncle, Ryan decided to attend The United States Military Academy at West Point as a way to further differentiate himself from his high school classmates who were going on to Harvard, Yale, etc.  Ryan started at West Point in the Fall of 2001 and one of my favorite parts of this interview was when he described what the atmosphere was like on campus on 9/11.  Ryan's high school football team practiced on a field that was literally in the shadows of the World Trade Center, so seeing the planes crash into the buildings obviously hit home hard.  Ryan had just gotten back from the pharmacy and made his bed for AMI (morning inspection). While walking to class, he heard someone say something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. Ryan's initial thoughts were that it must have been a small plane.  When he got to class one of his teachers had the tv on, and told the class "all your live's have just changed dramatically. That said, we have to lab, we have to execute. Ryan says that sense of normalcy around campus was everywhere.

“He (Professor) was almost planting the seed...Hey we just went on convoy and lost the most beloved member of the platoon, we have to go back out there and execute tomorrow."

I eventually asked Ryan how he ended up going into Infantry after majoring in nuclear engineering.  His answer was interesting in that he said it was quasi peer pressure at West Point.  I believe the dynamics of this peer pressure is similar to the pressures that exist in sports which serve as the foundation of the culture of toughness.  Although addressing the influence of peer pressure on his decision, Ryan doesn't regret his decision at all. 

Ryan was in southern Baghdad, on a high profile mission reassessing the most recently cleared section of the city on October 18th 2007.   He was in a Stryker unit, which is an armored personnel carrier.  These vehicles are really cool and I included a series of videos below to explain their varying capabilities. At that time in southern Baghdad the biggest threat were houses that were rigged to explode.  However, it was a roadside bomb that hit the Stryker unit, which led to Ryan's injuries (severe damage to left leg, shrapnel wounds to the organs in his torso).  Ryan goes into detail in these moments, and nothing I write in this post will give that story justice, so make sure to give this episode a listen!

 (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Juan Valdes)

 (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Juan Valdes)

According to Ryan, in 2007 the best place to have a traumatic injury was Baghdad Iraq because it had the highest survival rate.  Despite the severe wounds to his left leg, he was able to salvage his limb for 3 years after the accident and worked with a future podcast guest, Johnny Owens in the process. We discuss what went into the decision to amputate and you might be surprised to learn that it wasn't anything he lost sleep over. This was because of the lack of functionality Ryan had with his limb and he remembers other people with prosthetics running circles around him.  Prior to his injury, Ryan weighed 230 pounds and was running  a sub 12 minute 2 mile.  Like our man Chris Norton, Ryan advises wounded veterans and injured athletes to not compare yourself to who you were in the past. Ryan also recommends finding a group that challenges you in your recovery and beyond.  

These pieces of advice came from Ryan's struggles throughout his recovery, particularly while in grad school at Harvard where the degradation of his performance was most glaring for him.  Based on Ryan's academic credentials, its safe to assume that he was an absolute rock start in school, especially after graduating near the top of his class at West Point.  However, while at Harvard, Ryan remembers struggling academically, which he believes might have had something to do with the traumatic brain injuries on the battlefield and the opiate use while rehabbing to save his leg.  Lacking a peer group after his injury and physically being in a lot of pain led to a lack of social interaction that could have been beneficial in his recovery.

Although most people assume Ryan used cannabis to get off pain killers, it was actually the rehab done at The Center for The Intrepid that did it.  Despite being strongly against marijuana in high school, he tried it recreationally while in grad school and noticed the positive affects it had on his mood and restless leg syndrome.  Eventually Ryan moved out to California and began advocating for Cannabis to help other veterans kick their addictions to pain killers because he believes that has a lot to do with the high suicide rates among veterans.  Check out some of the organizations listed below that Ryan is involved with.

Lastly, Ryan lives his definition of toughness day in and day out.  To Ryan, toughness is being vulnerable enough to see all sides of an issue and take a stand for what you know is right after educating yourself on the topic at hand. Marijuana and cannabis as a whole have been demonized for decades and by listening to Ryan, a West Point and Harvard graduate, we get a different perspective that has the power to cultivate a new image they may have a positive affect in the world of sports.

WHERE CAN YOU learn more about Ryan's organizations?

Field - Website

Warrior Rising - Website | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram

C.A.M.O. - Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

WHERE CAN YOU FIND Ryan Miller?

email : ryan@fieldapp.co | Linkedin

Download Episode 79 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud