10/30/2017 1:00:00 PM - by SMECO
U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran Ryan Daniels of Lexington Park was one of 50 wounded soldiers who participated in a five-day expedition in Colorado in August. Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) nominated Daniels to take part in the expedition that was made possible through the partnership of CoBank and No Barriers USA.
Earlier this year, CoBank partnered with No Barriers to send combat veterans suffering physical and psychological damage on a five-day expedition in the Red Feather Lakes region of Colorado. The veterans were chosen from rural communities throughout the country. SMECO, as a CoBank business associate, was able to nominate one veteran to participate in the program.
Staff Sergeant Ryan Daniels in a Humvee in Iraq in 2009
Daniels joined the United States Marine Corps in January 2008 and primarily served as a combat engineer. He was deployed to Iraq in 2009 and then to Afghanistan in 2010. On May 13, 2011, two weeks before he was scheduled to return home, Daniels and his fire team were hit by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED)—the fourth time in seven months that Daniels and members of his squad were hit by an IED. These violent encounters left Daniels with numerous traumatic injuries. The physical pain, inability to sleep, and psychological scars from the attacks have had a lasting impact on Daniels. As a result, he struggles with night terrors, sleepwalking and other issues related to his traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I love the Marine Corps and everything it stands for,” Daniels said. But when he returned home to his family, he struggled with physical and emotional issues. Those problems were compounded by his inability to talk with his loved ones about the trauma he experienced.
“Last year, SMECO employees raised more than $53,000 through the SMECO 75 Bike Ride and our Annual Charity Golf Outing. Those funds were used to sponsor local veterans in Melwood’s Operation: Tohidu rehabilitation program,” explained Austin J. Slater, Jr., SMECO president and CEO. “When we were given the opportunity to select a veteran to participate in the No Barriers program, we turned to Operation: Tohidu to find an eligible candidate.”
Daniels took part in the local Melwood program in March 2016. According to Daniels, “Operation: Tohidu gave me the opportunity to talk openly with others who shared similar experiences, and that opened the door to the healing process for me.” He added, “Operation: Tohidu helped me bridge the communication gap, and I learned how to talk to my family in a way that wouldn’t worry them.”
When Daniels was selected for the No Barriers expedition in August, he knew the experience would be invaluable. During the five days of transformative educational experiences, the veterans were given opportunities to challenge themselves physically and emotionally. “You’re inserted into something that helps you find yourself,” Daniels said.
No Barriers USA uses curriculum-based experiences and challenging environments to help veterans with disabilities transform their lives. The non-profit also creates a safe space for veterans to reflect on their past, recognize where they are in the present, and look with positivity toward the future.
“SMECO is proud to have made a small contribution to the continued healing and recognition of our local hero, Ryan Daniels,” Slater said. Daniels was honorably discharged from service in January 2016 as a Staff Sergeant. He currently volunteers with Operation: Tohidu and is seeking his master’s degree in Management and Leadership at Webster University.