For 53-year-old, recall by Marines `very important to me'

Saturday, December 18th 2004, 11:26 am
By: News On 6

LEBANON, Pa. (AP) _ This is what Frank Ryan is bringing with him to Iraq:

Fourteen pairs of socks, 10 pairs of underwear, eight uniforms, and an alarm clock with his son Matthew's picture in it. Four razors, the lubricated kind for dry shaving, a knife, one sweater, two hats, long thermal underwear for sleeping and more family photos on a CD.

And that's not to mention the venison jerky for instant protein from Jan and Chuck Soulliard, friends from the post office.

Ryan is a 53-year-old retired Marine colonel with 32 years of active and reserve duty under his belt.

An accountant from Lebanon, he got a phone call from the Marine Corps' manpower office in August. Officials wanted to see if he would come out of retirement to serve in Iraq.

Could he pass the physical? Was he interested?

Yes, he said, he would be ready to go. ``Being able to be part of this is very important to me,'' he explained.

On Nov. 3, his orders came in the mail, marked ``Involuntary Presidential Select Recall.'' This was no longer a courtesy call. He would deploy on Dec. 5 to serve as deputy chief of the multinational force in Iraq. Ryan's assignment: to be responsible to the chief of staff and commanding general to coordinate the planning and operations of ground forces.

For Frank Ryan, 2004 is ending in ways he could hardly have imagined when the hectic year began.

In preparation for deployment, Ryan started jogging four times a week to lose the 20 pounds he had gained while running for the 17th congressional district seat in central Pennsylvania. He lost the Republican nomination to Scott Paterno.

He had to close his accounting business temporarily and refer his current clients. He had to finish landscaping the front yard. He had to prepare his four grown children and his wife, Sherrie. He was going into harm's way.

One of the hardest parts of the deployment for Ryan was stopping the adoption of a baby girl from China.

When he retired two years ago, he and Sherrie thought it would be wonderful to have another child, and so they started the adoption process. Just before Ryan got his orders they were told they would be paired up with a child and travel to China to get her as early as January. They chose the name Julia Rose.

The deployment made the adoption impossible, since the Chinese adoption agency required them to pick up the baby together. The adoption will have to wait. It's for the best, Ryan said.

``This is not going to happen, but if I became a casualty, what would it mean for the baby?'' he said.

He had already set up an education fund for Julia Rose.

In the period before deployment, Ryan prepared himself mentally for combat.

``I tell this to any of my young Marines: You are going into a different world and have to be prepared for just about anything,'' he said. ``They can't afford to take anything for granted.''

For Ryan, that means breaking up normal everyday patterns, such as getting up and having a cup of coffee. ``Don't have a pattern to your daily life,'' he said. ``Patterns will get you killed.''

Another aspect of mental preparation is what he calls ``personnel accountability.''

``It is real easy to wake up in the morning and say, four kids, my wife, three dogs, I'm covered,'' he said. ``Now I need to know where everybody is every second of the day, and: Are they OK? And so you mentally have to be prepared. You can't take your eye off of one person once. Real leadership is defined by your ability to care for others.''

Ryan joined the Marines as soon as he turned 18, at the height of the Vietnam War.

His son, Matthew Ryan, 22, enlisted with the Pennsylvania National Guard right out of high school. He will be commissioned in May when he graduates from Penn State. He has chosen the infantry and expects to be sent to Iraq.

On Sunday, Dec. 5, Frank Ryan had a cup of coffee out of his favorite mug. He put on his new uniform and loaded his bags in the family Volvo station wagon. He gave the dogs a goodbye cookie.

Then he and Sherrie and three fiends headed for Harrisburg International Airport. First, he'd fly to Camp Lejeune, N.C., then later to Iraq.

As Ryan checked in at the airport counter using his one-way ticket, he struck up a conversation with another traveler, John Hatton, a retired New York police officer and former Marine. When they parted, Ryan gave a quick salute and smile, and Hatton said, ``I will say a rosary for you, Colonel.''