Ryan Dion - Fellow

Jun 16, 2011
Ryan Dion
Ryan Dion - Fellow

Growing up in suburban Connecticut, Ryan Dion listened closely as his grandfather’s friend told stories about storming the beaches of Normandy during the World War II. The man had been a Marine. Dion knew he wanted to be a Marine too.

So, when he graduated high school, Dion enlisted almost immediately. He did basic training, then chose infantry school. “I guess I wanted to have some action,” he recalls. “I wanted to be right up there at the front.”

It wasn’t long before Dion got his wish. He was deployed to Fallujah, Iraq – a hotbed of fighting – in 2005. He came under fire as soon as he arrived. It was a wake-up call. “The rounds are coming toward you. The whole time we were training, you were shooting down range.” Still, Dion became known as a ready volunteer for a variety of missions during his 9-month tour. He carried a 17-pound automatic machine gun and about 40 pounds of ammunition in addition to an already heavy flak jacket and gear. He reveled in it.

Superiors noticed Dion’s proclivities, and promoted him to lance corporal. Although every other squad in his company sustained injuries, and some suffered deaths, Dion and his squad served out their tour with no casualties.

After returning stateside, Dion was promoted again to corporal and squad leader in charge of 12 Marines. By March, 2007, he was back in Iraq. This time, his focus was on helping Iraqi forces transition into control. “We were kind of like the big brother, the oversight.” They searched for insurgent snipers and improvised explosive devices, but saw little action. “It went good for a few weeks,” Dion recalls.

Then, only a month after Dion started his second deployment, things went terribly wrong. Moments after leaving his squad’s observation post to inspect a supply convoy, Dion saw “a big flash of light that turned night to day” and felt himself hurled against base’s front wall. An improvised rocket had exploded in front of him. Dion looked over at the gunnery sergeant who had been close by. One of the man’s arms was gone. Dion saw that his own right leg was mangled.

In the weeks that followed, Dion found his way to a military hospital in Maryland where doctors told him his ability to walk and his quality of life would improve if he had his leg amputated below the knee. They gave him a permission form to do the surgery. “That was probably the hardest document to sign,” Dion says.

Now, despite having to walk with prosthesis, Dion says he has no regrets. “I would do it again. I’m very proud of what I did.” His disability, he says, makes him a stronger and more optimistic person. “You have two options basically: you’re life goes to hell, or you can turn around and be positive.”

Dion brings that attitude to his work as a Wounded Warrior Program fellow. As a veterans coordinator in the Hartford, Connecticut district office of Rep. John Larson, he helps veteran constituents secure benefits and represents the congressman at various veterans events, among other duties.

It’s rewarding work, but Dion has a hard time believing his transformation from hard-charging Marine to congressional staffer. “I never thought I’d be sitting behind a desk.”