SSG (Ret.) Ryan Kelly, USA
The son of an Army officer, Ryan Kelly developed a strong sense of service at a young age. He enlisted in the Army Reserves as a Civil Affairs Specialist while still in high school. He pursued his education along with his military career, graduating from the Defense Language Institute (DLI) as a French linguist. Prior to his Army Reserve Unit being deployed to Iraq Ryan was a full-time college student, paramedic, and volunteer fire fighter.
Ryan served in Bosnia in support of peace keeping operations, and was deployed to Iraq in April 2003 attached to the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment. Ryan's team was tasked to liaise with the civilians in Western Iraq and to help restore the local infrastructure. In July of 2003, while stationed in Iraq, his team was en route to a conference about rebuilding the country's schools and hospitals, when their convoy was ambushed with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The blast severed Ryan's right leg below the knee. Along with a Purple Heart and Combat Action Badge, Ryan was a awarded a Bronze Star for Valor for continuing to provide suppressive fire immediately after the blast that took his leg, thereby helping his team assault through the insurgents ambush.
During his year-long recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., the then 24-year-old learned to walk with a prosthetic leg. He also connected with a group of other veterans who were starting to build an organization called the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). Ryan turned the loss of his leg into an opportunity to assist others by helping to grow this new organization, whose mission is honor and empower wounded warriors.
One of Ryan’s first successes with WWP came when he lobbied to enact landmark legislation enabling disabled veterans to have disability insurance—with previous eligibility only provided for life insurance. In addition to his legislative efforts, Ryan participated in a 4,200 mile coast-to-coast bicycle ride, raising money and awareness for wounded warriors and the WWP.
After being medically retired from the Army, Ryan pursued his education and continued with work to support his fellow veterans. In 2006, Ryan graduated with Honors from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, AZ, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Aerospace Studies and also trained to become a helicopter pilot. Ryan successfully convinced the FAA that he could fly, despite his disability, and went on to obtain his commercial and flight instructor licenses. During this time, Ryan's involvement with the WWP expanded, and he served on the Board of Directors of WWP, and also as one of their national spokesman.
Ryan recently found a way to combine his passion for flying with his desire to serve the community, and currently works as an emergency medical helicopter pilot, serving the citizens of Central Texas. Ryan and his wife Helena were married this year, and look forward to starting a family in Austin, TX.