WASHINGTON – Ryan Dennison’s friends envied his intensity. Adults said he was mature. It was as though he had always been a soldier — disciplined, prepared, sharp. No one was surprised when he went to war.
1st Lt. John Ryan Dennison, 24, of Ijamsville, who was killed in Iraq Wednesday by small arms fire, died doing his job, according to his friends.
“He didn’t want to be martyred,” said Stew Alcorn, his longtime friend and football and wrestling teammate in high school.
Dennison, a 2000 graduate of Urbana High School, died east of Baghdad after suffering gunshot wounds, his family told The Associated Press. The Department of Defense has not yet publicized his death.
As a Cub Scout, Alcorn recalled, Dennison brought in a box his father, Jack Dennison, who also served in the Army, had brought home from his stint in Desert Storm.
“He was so proud. He wouldn’t stop talking about how he was going to be a soldier someday,” Alcorn said.
Dennison, who would become a platoon leader in a cavalry regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, certainly acted like one.
Before he left for West Point, John Ryan Dennison’s friends “threw what is to my knowledge the biggest party Urbana has ever seen,” said Alcorn.
The next time Alcorn saw Dennison, he noticed a change.
“He grew up a lot, I guess you could say. He was always a soldier. He had wanted to be a soldier his whole life, but he was a man,” Alcorn said. “I think Haley had a lot to do with that.”
Dennison’s wife, 1st Lt. Haley Dennison, also 24, who he met at U.S. Military Academy at West Point, is serving in Afghanistan.
The two were engaged at a restaurant in Baltimore while in their junior year at West Point and married in July 2004, Alcorn said.
Dave Carruthers, who coached Dennison and his teammates to two state football championships in 1998 and 1999, said Dennison’s performance on the field was rigorously consistent. He trained harder than anyone, Carruthers said.
“He was very, very intense,” Carruthers said.
Dennison, who played offensive guard and linebacker, wasn’t the most imposing at around 6’1″, 170 pounds, but what he lacked in size, he made up for in smarts, grit, and strength, Carruthers said.
“He was someone we could always rely on,” Carruthers said. “He always prepared hard. He was very smart. He knew his assignments and executed very well. Whatever he did, he gave it his all.”
Urbana High School Principal George Seaton II and his colleagues heard of Dennison’s death in Friday’s Frederick News Post.
“It hit us hard,” Seaton said.
He said Dennison very a popular student and was always “very respectful and engaging.” Dennison’s ferocity on the field and the mat never spilled over into the school’s hallways, Seaton said.
In fact, in his four years at Urbana, Dennison was never summoned to Seaton’s office for discipline, he said.
“If I was going to see Ryan, it was going to have to be in an honors class or during wrestling or football practice,” Seaton said. “He was a very mature student.”
He took courses for college credit as a junior in high school, and he loved history, Seaton said.
“Ryan had direction,” he said.
Dennison’s direction tracked north, to West Point, where he indulged his passion for military history — particularly the Civil War — and majored in international relations.
Haley Dennison shipped out to Afghanistan last March. Dennison shipped out, first to Kuwait and then to Iraq, a couple months later.
Dennison is survived by his wife, parents, Jack and Shannon Dennison, a brother, Christopher Dennison, and a sister, Colleen Dennison.
Plans for services will not be made until Haley Dennison arrives in the United States, Alcorn said.