Junior Ryan Helms (left) with his brother John.
Nov. 11, 2010
As Tennessee junior diver Ryan Helms performs tucks and pikes while zipping rapidly towards a pool from 10 meters up, his mental focus must be precise. One wrong move could mean hitting the water wrong and the result could be serious injury.
But compared to the Moultrie, Ga., native's older brother, Ryan has got it easy. His brother, John, is a Marine currently stationed in Afghanistan.
"After he went into the Marine Corps, we grew a lot closer," Ryan said. "He is doing a serious thing now. We grew up together--you know how brothers do--we picked on each other. But now he's on the other side of the world in a completely different situation."
After spending a year at Abraham-Baldwin Agricultural College, John, 22, enlisted in the Marine Corps. During the next four years he would have been studying for quizzes and writing papers, John instead enlisted and then moved from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to an aircraft carrier, then back to Camp Lejeune before his current deployment to Afghanistan where he is training Afghan troops.
"Him be so far away is really tough on us," Ryan said. "We don't know when we will get to see him next. We are hanging on a prayer that he can come home for Christmas. We've been together on Christmas for 20 years and it would be weird if he wasn't there."
While the brothers don't often get to see each other, that doesn't stop them from communicating. Facebook provides them the ability to check in with one another as often as possible.
"My parents use Skype to talk to him but I haven't done that, yet," Ryan said. "We communicate through Facebook about once every couple of weeks. There are some days when I know he is really down in the dumps and that weighs on me because I can't contact him. It's tough to not have the ability to be there for him."
Realizing the sacrifices families have to make in situations like his has allowed Ryan to truly appreciate what his brother is doing.
"People serving in the military give up a lot--time with their families and friends," Ryan said. "No question it has given me a true appreciation of what so many families go through. John being a Marine has really educated me on what kind of life our soldiers live. They work hard--they are always preparing to defend our country."
But Ryan isn't the only Vol with a brother serving in the military. Just like Ryan, Michael DeRocco, Anders Storvik and Clint Johnson all have brothers serving their country. DeRocco's brother Anthony serves in the Air National Guard; Storvik's brother Erik is stationed in Germany; and Johnson's brother Brandon is stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Countless other Vols have family members who dutifully are serving or have served their country.
But for Ryan Helms, his brother's service taught him the true meaning of being a Volunteer.
"John's deployment to Afghanistan was voluntary," Ryan said. "He volunteered to go over there. He didn't have to go--they just take the first people to volunteer. He told me those spots fill up the quickest.
"Doesn't that say a lot about what kind of people are serving our country?"