My name is Bryan Schrader. I’m from Canton, Ohio, and I was an Airborne Ranger. Joining the Army at 18 was an easy choice for me because it’s been my family’s tradition to serve and defend this country since the 1600s, and I’m proud to be a part of that lineage.
I joined the Army with an Airborne Ranger contract for 4 years and 17 weeks. Seventeen weeks of pain and punishment is how long it took just to get to the Rangers. After that, I owed the Army 4 more years of pain and punishment, but I loved it. I reenlisted after those first 4 years, and I spent another 8 in the Ranger Regiment, with a 1-year tour to Korea sometime in the middle of that. I later went to Selection for the 75th Ranger, Regimental Reconnaissance Detachment. I made selection and then passed the training course, and then I was assigned to a team. I had 10 years in the Army as a Ranger when I first went to war. While serving in recon, I was fortunate to be part of the invasion and was on the 12-man team that conducted the first combat freefall insertion into Afghanistan.
Later in my career, I took a position as an instructor at the Military FreeFall School in Yuma, AZ, where I had a near-fatal parachuting accident in January of 2007. I don’t remember anything at all that day, but I’m told I hit the ground on one side of my body going about 70 mph, bounced about 6 feet off the ground, and landed on the other side of my body. When the dust settled, I was lying unconscious and not breathing. I had a compound break in my left tibia and fibula, resulting in a metal plate, rod, and screws. My right femur was shattered, leaving me with a rod and screws. My pelvis was fractured in a few places, so I have several pins from that. I shattered my sacrum, which has left me with a lot of nerve damage in my organs and lower body. I broke off some transverse processes in my lumbar spine, and while I had back injuries before, this doesn’t help any. I herniated my C3-5, so I’m “supposed” to be careful of further neck damage. I had a large blood clot in my right lower leg, leaving me with an IVC (inferior vena cava) filter that they couldn’t remove (with the implications of it for my future unknown, as it’s grown into the walls of my vein and wasn’t intended to be a permanent device). I also had many other little things wrong, but at that point, they didn’t matter (like broken toes, foot pad obliteration, etc.). The worst of it all, the extent of it unknown at the time, was that I had 7 brain hemorrhages, resulting in a moderate traumatic brain injury that I deal with – that my family deals with – day in and day out. The docs told me it was a miracle that I had lived. I spent 3 months in a hospital bed in my living room, and I spent longer being in a wheelchair. Then, I moved on to a walker, as the physical therapist had to teach me how to walk again. I had an amazing command at the time, and they took unbelievable care of me.
Over time, I recovered from my physical injuries the best I could, but no one, not even my wife or I, ever dealt with the extent of my head injuries. I believe that I had so many physical injuries that all of the doctors were primarily focused on dealing with that. The injuries we couldn’t see were pushed aside and forgotten until we couldn’t ignore them any longer. I didn’t know or understand anything about head trauma before, but as time went on, I noticed things I was having trouble with: memory, attention, mood changes, and so on. I still did not see the extent of where I was or where I was going. At one time, I was cocky, proud, confident, and one of the best at what I did. Now I was lost. I didn’t feel connected to my brothers I served with. I felt alone. I felt weak. I felt vulnerable. I felt like I had lost my mind. Every single day was a roller coaster ride of emotions. Hell, some days it felt like one hour I’d be up and the next we’d all get whiplash on the way down. And on and on it went.
I’m a Yankee from the suburbs of Canton, Ohio, and I always wanted to learn how to hunt. I live in Texas now, and everyone around me hunts and fishes, but I’m clueless. Much worse, I’m an Army Ranger and they all expect me to be amazing at it. The only time I ever killed deer before was when they ran across the range while we were shooting M-60 machine guns and grenade launchers! But never have I experienced an actual hunt for big game wildlife, and now I appreciate what it puts on my family’s table.
My buddy, Bobby, who is also a disabled vet, invited me with him on an antelope hunt with Jeep Sullivan in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico. I almost bailed out of the trip last minute. I’ve been up and down with horrible depression since I’ve been out, and I had just hit one of my worse low-lows. About a week before the hunt, I woke up and didn’t want to be around anymore. I felt so worthless that I thought my family would be better off without me. I just wanted the constant roller coaster of high-highs and low-lows to end. I still don’t understand it: how could I be so on top of the world thinking I’ve got it under control again one day, but then the next day I just want to pull the trigger…like really badly.
My wife talked me – forced me, really – into going…God bless her. I had such an incredible experience, it truly changed the course I was on. I loved every second of it. The hunt was amazing, and it hooked me in and gave me a new passion. It gave me something to look forward to. I connected with an old friend and shared so much; it was good for me. The people I met on the event set the bar for what true Americans should be like. They treated me unbelievably well. I would not be where I am now if it weren’t for events like these, supported by great Americans.
The trip was good in a multitude of ways. The hunting experience was a tremendously positive experience I will never forget. I’m getting the head mounted and will look at it every day hanging on my wall in remembrance of all the positives that came with it. This experience has been key to my healing. I’ve gone through serious depression, I’m always stressed out, and I’ve felt absolute worthlessness in myself. Being in the type of environment that these trips offer is incredibly important, and it took me a bit to reflect on and be able to understand it to put it in words. The trip got me away from my self-induced chaos of life. It added excitement to my life I hadn’t felt in a while. It gave me that needed rush of adrenaline I miss (we soldiers are all adrenaline junkies), and it was glorious. For once, I didn’t need a crutch to be happy. I got to hang with a friend that I respected and trusted. I didn’t feel quite so alone when we talked. The length of time I was given on the trip allowed me time to connect with him, someone who “gets it.” You hunt all day and laugh and have a great time, but at night, we all sleep like shit, so we get a lot of time to lay there and just talk…it’s medicine of the best kind. We have time to reflect on the positive of the day, and we have time to talk about the challenges in life we now face. They train you to handle the worse possible conditions you will face in war, but never do they prepare you for what lies ahead after the ride’s over. You are left broken to pieces, physically and mentally, you are on your own, and some of us don’t make it through. This is another part of the hunt that has been significant help. Having that actual face-to-face time with each other is something I can’t accomplish at home. These are conversations I could never have over the phone or just meeting up to share a meal. I need to be physically present when I’m sharing this stuff, and I need to read a person’s body language reacting to what I’m saying. These trips are where we can meet and are able to “share notes” with each other. This is where I start to find I’m not so alone in this darkness. This is where I find great strength to move forward. I always feel like we’ve helped each other, being brothers, and it always makes me feel needed, too, like I have something worthwhile still to offer. These trips are where the real healing begins.
Between church, family, and me getting healthy again (in large part because of the opportunities I’ve been blessed with on this wounded warrior type of event), I feel like my family is steadily moving forward again. These trips are a significant joy for me now and give me something to be passionate about again. I’ve connected with old brothers and many new. Some of them have become some of my closest friends and given me someone I’m comfortable enough with to reach out to when I go down into the darkness. And vice versa. God bless the people who donate and volunteer their precious time to help all the vets out there that need it. It truly makes a difference.