Saving Sgt. Ryan: A Father’s Sacrifice

May 26th, 2007 - by admin

Jaime O’Neill / SF – 2007-05-26 23:03:09

Jim Lehrer: “Why have you not, as president of the United States, asked more Americans and more American interests to sacrifice something? The people who are now sacrificing are, you know, the volunteer military — the Army and the US Marines and their families. They’re the only people who are actually sacrificing anything at this point.”

President Bush: “Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night. I mean, we’ve got a fantastic economy here in the United States, but yet, when you think about the psychology of the country, it is somewhat down because of this war.”
— The Newshour (January 16, 2007)

(May 20, 2007) — So, President Bush is mindful of the suffering of those of us back home who “sacrifice peace of mind” because of his war in Iraq.

But if the war in Iraq bums you out, then imagine how bummed out you would be if you were Tim Kahlor, the father of Sgt. Ryan Kahlor, a 23-year-old kid who has spent more than two years in that Bush-benighted nation.

Kahlor is still on active duty in Germany, and though he has survived four direct assaults on tanks he’d been riding in, and come through a number of other close calls, it’s still possible he’ll be sent back to Iraq in August. Kahlor didn’t come through those four attacks unscathed. He’s suffered traumatic brain injury and compressed vertebrae in his back. Those injuries have not been deemed serious enough to exclude him from the prospect of yet another tour of duty.

“Those four attacks he was in were just the ones in 2006,” his father says. “I don’t know the half of it, because he doesn’t tell me everything, and you never can get much out of the Army. They diagnose the injuries, and then your status rides on how that diagnosis got made. From what I understand about Vietnam, if you got wounded, you got sent home, but it’s not like that now.”

To say that his father worries about his son is a tremendous understatement. Tim Kahlor compares his daily dread to a never-ending prom night, when your kid is out driving for the first time and you’re waiting by the phone at 3 a.m. In Tim Kahlor’s world, and in the world of all those military parents who wait by their phones, it’s always 3 a.m. on prom night.

“All that time my son was in Iraq,” he says, “I’d hear something on the news about soldiers killed in Iraq, and I’d wonder if it’s my son. At home, when a car came down our street, I always feared it might be someone coming to tell me that my kid was dead.”

Tim Kahlor is a member of a group called Military Families Speak Out, a national organization of more than 3,000 military families who have, or have had, relatives serving in Iraq. I first met him outside the state Democratic convention in San Diego several weekends ago.

A 49-year-old personnel payroll coordinator for San Diego State University, Kahlor hardly fits the image of a wild-eyed radical. But he’s been jostled and insulted at a protest in Washington, and his patriotism has been called into question by people who, it always turns out, have no one serving in Iraq.

The sign he carries outside the convention hall urges Democrats to end funding for the war, and to get the troops home ASAP. He is grateful when people stop to talk with him, and eager to speak to anyone who will lend an ear, but the press credentials hanging around my neck make me an especially welcome audience.

Kahlor has been talking to Democrats for the better part of two days, but his energy has not flagged. Across the street from the convention center, a couple hundred anti-war demonstrators are waving banners and shouting slogans calling for the impeachment of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Their shouts, and the honking of the horns of motorists supporting their sentiments, serve as a chorus to the dialogue we are having. Although he has told his son’s tale to many, the emotions are still raw. His voice catches and tears well up in his eyes when he utters the phrase “traumatic brain injury.”

“I look at my son,” Kahlor says, “and he’s all banged up, but there are so many who have suffered so much more than my son has. We’ve got to quit returning the same soldiers and Marines over and over.”

He brushes away a tear. “I’m still amazed Ryan has survived. You can only run across the freeway so many times without getting hit.”

That evening, my wife and I attend a dinner for Nancy Pelosi. When we return to the convention center for that event, Kahlor is still out front with a handful of other members of Military Families Speak Out. We exchange greetings, and then my wife and I head in for the gathering of delegates, probably 1,000 people who’ve paid $125 a plate to hear tributes to the nation’s first woman speaker of the House — who also happens to be the first Italian American and the first Californian to hold that post. So there is a palpable sense of pride in that vast dining hall, along with the kind of anticipation that always comes with the prospect of seeing someone famous and important.

When Pelosi takes her place at the podium, a commotion breaks out at the far entrance to the dining hall. I can’t see what is going on, but I hear someone shouting, “Out of Iraq now.” A ripple of apprehension runs through the hall. These are uneasy times, and fear of madmen is never far away, so I am irritated by this method of expression, even as I share the frustration that prompted it.

Later, I learn that it was Kahlor and a couple other members of Military Families Speak Out who were acting out the name of their organization. No one was arrested. They were hustled away by police, and Pelosi’s speech went on without further interruption.

In retrospect, I’m a little ashamed of the annoyance I felt when Kahlor’s little protest sullied the good vibrations at that Democratic dinner, and I wish Pelosi had gotten to know the man I met outside the convention hall. If she had, she might have called him to the podium, and reminded the people there of the reasons she is fighting so hard to end the war. Then we might have seen the human face of real sacrifice, and known second-hand the cost so few of us have been asked to bear.

Jaime O’Neill, a frequent Insight contributor, lives near Chico. Contact us at