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'The Real World': Ryan Conklin talks about getting called back to Iraq

Ryan_singles_048_3"The Real World: Brooklyn's" Ryan Conklin is only 23, but he's preparing to serve his second tour of duty in Iraq. He first enlisted after 9/11, when he was just 17, and several times since has narrowly escaped with his life. He also experienced the death of a close friend.

On tonight's episode, Conklin will get the call back into action, which he describes as devastating. (He's scheduled to go back on April 15.) Last week, he phoned in from Camp Shelby, Miss., where he's training with other military members of the Individual Ready Reserve, to explain how he's adjusted to the unexpected situation and why he feels lucky to have been selected to be on the umpteenth iteration of an MTV reality show.

What have you been doing since being called back?
We’re training, actually, it's re-training for all the IRR guys who’ve been out of the Army for a few years. We’re just running through weapons systems, shooting weapons, getting back into the mode, taking classes, just trying to remember everything. They’re having to teach us new things because a lot has changed. We’re working seven days a week, trying to get last-minute training in.

What went through your mind when you found out that you would be going back to Iraq? During the season, you said several times you hoped this wouldn’t happen.
It sucked. When I got the call, I was playing pool with Scott. I remember picking up the phone and someone started asking me how the Veterans Day parade was. At first I didn’t even recognize who it was, but it was my brother. He just sounded so down in the dumps, I had never heard him like that! He told me he got the letter I'd been dreading and everything just changed. My mind was going a mile a minute. Everything disappeared, Scott, the cameras, I was just absorbed in that phone call. At first I wanted so bad for my brother to say he was joking, but he wasn’t. 

Did the cameras back off?
Man, I would have loved to have that. But they’re there all the time and that was near the end of my experience so I knew the rules. Cameras are there, but I was in such a daze, I didn’t even see them. When I watched the episode you’ll see tonight for the first time it was like watching someone else. I didn’t really remember any of that. My mind was racing so fast.

What were your roommates' reactions?
I didn’t tell them immediately. I needed to process. There were a million questions: What the hell is going on with my life? Am I ready? Can I do it? Where am I going? What’s it like over there? How’s my family going to take it? How am I going to break it to my girlfriend? I also thought about how my roommates were going to take it. I didn't want to bum them out for the rest of the time we were there. It was near the end [of our time] and everyone was doing good things and pursuing their own careers. I didn’t want to bring the tone down. I just had to come to terms with it for myself first, and if anything, I wanted to appreciate the rest of the time even more. So I put up a good front and I tried to stay my own immature, crazy self, but it wasn’t that easy. You’ll see when I tell the roommates, each approach was different. I figured out what was best for each of them.

When you were selected to be on "The Real World," did you know you wanted to talk about your experiences in the Army?
First, I was stoked. I couldn’t believe they picked me. It sounded like the easiest job in the world; all I would have to do is be me. Then I thought I was in a good spot. I could focus on some real bigger issues at hand, such as veterans. I wasn’t a big political advocate in my day, but if I could share some experiences and turn some people, educate them in an easy, fun way, if they could get to know me and listen to me, that’s a platform I was willing to take. I had no problem exposing anything about me.

On the show, you seemed very opinionated about the war. What are you hoping viewers take away from watching you?
I wanted  people to know that even though, yes, I was in the military, and yes, I was a front-line infantryman, I turned out alright. You can go and do things over there and see things you wouldn’t want other people to see, but you can turn out alright. That’s why I didn’t bring up being in the Army at first. I wanted my housemates to get to know me for me. In turn, I wanted viewers to see that first and then go, "Oh, he also served in the Army and in Iraq and was an infantryman." The demographic for "The Real World," I wanted them to see that it’s not only our demographic, it’s our generation over there serving. When I was first in Iraq, I wasn’t even old enough to drink in America. This many years into the war, I wanted people to remember, especially younger people, that it’s us over there. It’s been five years and I’m sick of seeing news about celebrities going to rehab or Angelina adopting a new baby, and oh, by the way, two soldiers died in Iraq today. I wanted people to wake up because people forget.

You were 17 when you enlisted. Knowing what you know now, would you do anything differently?
I don’t live with regrets. I believe everything happens for a reason. If I could go back in time, I’d do the exact same thing because the Army molded me the way I am. If I’d never joined the Army, I would  probably have gone to college, I’d probably be sitting at a desk and there would be millions of people that would never have heard of me. I wouldn’t have the same message that I do now.

In one episode, you told your roommates, “We’re not the world’s Army. We need to stop fighting for other countries.” How do you feel about having to go back to Iraq?
I still feel the same way. Obviously, America’s got plenty of problems on its own, whether it’s economy or the borders or other issues. I know we’re a superpower and that’s always been in our history. But, and this is strictly just my opinion, I don’t speak for others, I’m from Gettysburg and we have plenty of Civil War monuments and when this country had its civil war … I’m not saying Iraq’s having a civil war, but other countries stay out of our business when we’re having problems.

You’re older now. Are you doing anything differently to prepare yourself mentally?
I’m more focused. I’m going to a unit where there’s going to be people who have not deployed. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, I’m from a household of teachers, so it’s no problem passing on my knowledge if it’s going to help someone else. If I see someone doing something wrong, I’ll speak up more. This time around, I’m not doing it for the career -- I got out for a reason. I’m here to serve my time. I’m going to make sure I make it back and I’m going to make sure everyone around me makes it back.

How satisfied are you with how you’ve been portrayed on "The Real World"?
I’m actually very happy. What they have is what happened. I was me. I’m glad they showed the good sides and bad sides of me because I’m human and I know I make mistakes. I was very happy with the episode you’re going to see tonight. They really showed a lot of things I got involved in with the veterans. A lot of people in the house were very supportive and inquisitive about it. It’s my favorite episode, even though the last part is kind of dismal. But this is real. Getting called back is a part of this war that I guarantee that people aren’t aware of or aren’t thinking about.

-- Denise Martin

Photo credit: MTV

Comments () | Archives (76)

Great interview. Ryan is one of the most genuine individuals to have ever been portrayed on the Real World. I love following his story.

Ryan, you are amazing. My prayers are with you and all your brothers and sisters fighting for this country. Thank you for being who you are, thank you for being an inspiration, and thank you for being a voice to so many who haven't been able to speak. God bless you, and God bless America.

I feel bad for him, you could tell he wanted to go to college so bad and be with his girlfriend. That sucks

i think he is a wonderful person, and it takes a real man to actually sign up for the army

Good luck Ryan.. Your story touch a lot of hearts... Thank you for what you and all the troops are doing out there...

Be safe, Ryan. Never change.

Ryan you are truly an amazing person. I would die to meet you someday...actually to be honest i tell people you are my future husband! I know you are a strong person and you will make it back from iraq! You and Chet are the two people that made me keep watching the real world you guys were the best! Good luck in Iraq..you are an inspiration! By the way you are probably one of the funniest guys i have ever seen....

I had just watched the episode, and right away came on to see how Ryan was. In this episode I felt like people watching could feel closer to everything going on in the show. After reading this interview, I can agree. Ryan is correct. Many people are too wrapped up in tabloids and gossip. They definitely need to wake up, beacuse it is true, people forget. I will admit there are times where I have forgotten.

Ryan, I would just like to let you know, that from what I have learned from things you have said had made me wake up and remember the more important things in this world. And for that, I thank you. And thank you for fighting for this country.
I am turning 19 next week, actually. At the age of seventeen I couldn't imagine many of the people I know doing what you do. Thank you for being one of the many of our generation serving.
Six, almost seven years ago, my brother passed away at the age of 20. I want you to know I just said a prayer for you. Whether you're home or overseas, I asked my brother to watch over you.
Be safe. God Bless.

And try your best not to change. You always have people laughing, I can assure you that. Every week watching, my boyfriend and I become hysterical with some of the things you say and do.


im a navy brat.i know people that have gone to fight in iraq i see what they go through and i just wanna say kidd good luck and come home safe.you and EVERY other AMERICAN hero. theres nobody on earth stronger then the military.NO ONE....USA USA USA


Wow... I was hoping for your sake that I would go on line and discover you were not going back for medical reasons. My prayers go with you and all of the brothers in your unit. I am so freaking proud of you buddy.

I rarely cry... this really hit me.

I have your back buddy!
God Bless+
one of your many Real World buds

Ryan your great. be safe over there and best of luck.
we love you

Ok well the first thing that I want to say is Ryan, dude, you are a really cool guy. I'm glad you are on the show this year or I probably wouldn't have watched it. Ok well after I got finished watching the show tonight, I immediatly came on the Internet to see how you were coping with this whole getting called back into the army ordeal. Now that I know that you're doing well I guess, I wanna say that I look up to you greatly and I have a tremendous amount of respect for you. Dude, I'm gonna be praying for you until the day I've heard that you've come home safely. Keep being you. And God bless.

Good luck man it takes alot of guts and courage to do what you and other military personal do my brother is curantly over there serving people don't realize the risks and the things you leave behind to fight for our freedom stay positive keep your head up good luck and may god be with you in your time thanks for fighting for mine and everyones freedom good luck god bless

Ryan, thank you for sharing your story. I have a different view of the war and the soldiers. I will keep you in my prayers. :) Best of luck to you and your girlfriend!

Ryan, I just want to let you know that tonights episode really touched my heart. I want to say thank you. I am praying for you and all the other soliders that are figting. Since I've been watching you on the show, I think that you are an awsome person. When I heard you on the phone I couldn't stop crying. I've been praying for you ever since. I pray that May god be with you and Watch over you. May God give you wisdom and guidance to take each step in your life.

hang in there, Ryan. your story is the only reason i kept the Real World on. thank you for everything you've done and will do in the future.
-your friends in New Orleans

Ryan, You are truly a HERO - thank you for your service to our Freedom. You are a very courageous and strong young man. I do not agree with the War but I support you and all your fellow servicemen and servicewomen. You are prayed for. May you stay safe, strong and well. Hopefully this war will be over soon and you will be safely back at home soon. God speed!

Ryan, you are such an inspiration. Thank you... for all you have done and all that is ahead of you. You have touched more lives than I'm sure you could imagine and shown a side of veterans that has been dismissed or ignored by most. God bless!
Prayers from NC are with you.

Ryan may god be with you and keep you safe. I think you was called back for a reason. We need more men like you in this world your the best. Ps. Don't change

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