Staff Sergeant Ryan Patman Means

Staff Sergeant Ryan Patman Means, a U.S. Special Forces soldier died on Tuesday, July 7th in New York City at the age of 35. The cause was complications after surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, cholangiocarcinoma, from his bile duct.

Ryan was serving in Iraq at the time of his diagnosis on May 28, 2009.

Born in Atlanta to Al and Mary Jo Means, Ryan attended Christ the King grade school and graduated from Marist School in 1992. Ryan attended college at the University of Colorado at Boulder and later graduated from the University of Georgia.

Ryan worked in telecommunications for BellSouth and later for Williams Communications in New York City. It was on the morning of September 11, 2001, when two airliners crashed into the twin towers that set in motion Ryan’s incredible journey from his childhood neighborhood of Brookhaven to the neighborhoods of Iraq.

This journey began with Ryan’s close friendship with Adam White. Ryan and Adam were best friends since the first grade. They were fraternity brothers, roommates, drinking buddies, and climbing partners while students at Boulder. Their shared thirst for adventure was forged while bivouacking in a snowstorm near the summit of Mt. Ranier.

Adam and Ryan continued to climb together even after they both moved to New York City. On the day of the September 11th attacks, Ryan became greatly concerned when he could not contact Adam, as Adam worked in the North Trade Tower. Ryan rode his bike around the city for weeks posting flyers with Adam’s picture and searching the city’s hospitals. Ryan never found Adam and he was profoundly affected by his best friend’s death. He simply had to do something.

Ryan’s friends and family were shocked but not surprised when at the age of 31 he enlisted in the Army. Many remember Ryan as a child wearing fatigues everyday. For his 7th birthday his mother planned an army birthday party at a military themed restaurant. When Ryan was eight, two Marine Corps recruitment officers knocked on his parent’s front door because Ryan filled out and mailed in a recruitment postcard that he tore from a Boys Life magazine. Ryan hit the jackpot when an Army-Navy Surplus store opened in the neighborhood. To his parents great concern, he brought home various army helmets, pocket-knives, gas masks, nun-chucks, smoke grenades, and camo face paint. Brookhaven was kept very safe by their beloved nine year-old neighborhood commando.

Ryan did not take this decision to enlist lightly. Deep in Ryan’s heart was a love for his country and a great historical perspective of the sacrifices that young men and women have made to defend America’s peace and security. One night at the Buckhead Lions Club, Ryan listened intently to a speech about the global war on terror given by Major General Julian Burns. After the speech, Ryan introduced himself and informed General Burns of his decision to join the fight. General Burns was so fired up about Ryan’s commitment that he and Ryan both got down on the floor and pumped out fifty push-ups together.

After basic training and Airborne school at Fort Benning, Ryan was selected to tryout for Special Forces at Fort Bragg. At 32, Ryan was one of the oldest candidates in his class. The training was physically and mentally grueling. He emerged from the program successfully and graduated to become a member of one of the most elite fighting forces in the world.

During his time at Fort Bragg, Ryan and his buddies would often road-trip to Wrightsville Beach, N.C. One morning while overlooking his motel room balcony, Ryan spotted a beautiful young woman pull into the parking lot driving a convertible. Her name was Heather and she was radiant, demure, intelligent and gorgeous. Ryan had to utilize every bit of his elite Special Forces skills to allure her into his life. Mission accomplished.

Their love affair was easy. The two simply decided to get married while holding hands and walking around Chastain Park. After an intimate, flip-flop-wearing courthouse wedding, they settled in Clarksville, Tenn., just outside of his base at Fort Campbell. Their first child Elizabeth was one year old and Heather was three months pregnant with their second child when Ryan was deployed to Iraq in January, 2009.

Ryan’s letters from Iraq did not elaborate on his daily missions and he very much downplayed the fact that he was in harm’s way. Although he was a courageous and tough warrior, Ryan felt great empathy for the Iraqi people and he particularly felt compassion for the Iraqi children. He always made an effort to share things like lip balm, toilet paper, soccer balls and school supplies with the kids. His was living out his dream but his letters always ended with his desire to be back home with Heather and having bath-time with Elizabeth.

After six months in Iraq, Ryan noticed that he was jaundiced and was airlifted to Baghdad for further testing. Ryan was diagnosed with Cholagiocarcinoma at the end of May and immediately medivaced to Walter Read Army Hospital in Washington DC for initial treatment, and later to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City for surgery. He was met in New York by his immediate family and his wife Heather, who was nine months pregnant.

Directly across the street from Sloan-Kettering Hospital is New York Presbyterian Hospital. This was very convenient for the Means Family because Heather went into labor and was wheeled across the street by an Army Special Forces liason officer. He then ran back across the street to Sloan-Kettering where he pulled out Ryan’s IV’s and wheeled him into Heather’s delivery room just in time for the birth of their second daughter, Sophie Ryan Means.

Ryan, Heather, 18 month-old Elizabeth and newborn Sophie spent the following days convalescing. Ryan would show his wife and daughters his old New York City haunts and tell stories about his old friend Adam. And everyday after their long easy strolls through Central Park, Ryan would bring his children home for bath-time.

On the morning of July 7th, the sun rose in New York City as Ryan’s soul passed on to heaven. His wife Heather and his parents Mary Jo and Al held him closely.

Ryan was not in pain as his once strong body relinquished its long and courageous struggle to stay with us. For six days Ryan fought with the strength and honor of a Special Forces soldier, but the complications from surgery to remove the cancerous tumor in his bile duct were far to great.

We will remember Ryan as a sweet son, a loving husband, a doting father, a wild-man brother, an unwavering friend, and a fearless soldier. But most of all, we will remember Ryan as our hero. Ryan ended all of his letters with a simple thought: “Keep on rockin’ in the free world.”

Ryan is survived by his immediate family including wife Heather Means; daughters Elizabeth and Sophia Means; parents Al and Mary Jo Means; and brothers Alfie, Tommy, and Michael Means, who were always the closest of brothers. Ryan is also survived by his many extended family members around the country.

The funeral of Ryan Patman Means will be at The Cathedral of Christ the King, Monday, July13th, 2009 at 10:00 AM. Christ the King Church is 2699 Peachtree Road, NE, Atlanta, Georgia 30305. A reception will follow in the parish hall.

Charitable Donations in Ryan’s name include:

The Sophie and Elizabeth Means Education Fund:
c/o Alfie Means
3788 Powers Ferry Rd. NW
Atlanta, GA 30342

Athens Y Camp
1000 Y Camp Rd
Tallulah Falls, GA 30573
(706) 754-6912

Special Operations Warrior Foundation
P.O. Box 13483
Tampa, FL 33681-3483

Return to The Sophie & Elizabeth Education Fund