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“Real World” castmate Ryan Conklin gets real

October 29, 2010

Every year the “Real World” on MTV airs a new season, with the tag line “it’s time to start getting real.” On Monday, Oct. 25, “Real World: Brooklyn” cast member Ryan Conklin paid a visit to Monmouth College about just how real his life has been.

Conklin, who was portrayed as the laid back and fun loving character on “Real World: Brooklyn” in 2009, told about his past and his experiences serving in the U.S. Army and his duties in Iraq. “I wanted to be somebody to relate to and answer questions about war,” Conklin said regarding why he chooses to speak out.

Conklin started by telling how he will always remember where he was on Sept. 11, 2001, and how then, at only the age of 16 he knew he wanted to enlist in the Army.

“I was angry after 9/11 and called up a recruiter,” Conklin stated. “I told him I wanted to put boot to ass.”

Conklin graduated high school and went straight to Georgia to begin his basic training. After two years had passed he was deployed to Iraq at the age of 20.

“It’s hard to describe, I will always remember the first feeling in the sand,” said Conklin.

Conklin was then stationed in Baghdad. Using a mixture of sarcasm and seriousness, he described the moments he faced in the surroundings of Baghdad, like being close to Saddam Hussein. He also told of the disturbing images he witnessed when seeing suicide bombers.

“Seeing it for real, it was disgusting. It was real, not something I could turn off,” said Conklin.

There is one event Conklin will never forget. Members of his company and himself were loading up on supplies at a base, and he had fallen behind as he was picking out which shampoo to get. After realizing his normal truck was full, he climbed into another one with space. From there he described the “unmistakable explosion” that left the first truck in a cloud of black smoke.

“It went from zero to hell in a second,” he explained. Nobody was killed in the explosion, but one solider who was seriously injured sat in the seat that Conklin himself, was supposed to be in.

In 2006 Conklin returned home to his small town home of Gettysburg, Penn. He found himself in a culture shock, going from combat to a small town. He became distant from friends and family and fell into a “dark funk” as he called it. “I felt like I had nothing in relation to my friends anymore.”

He found himself driving around with the windows up, as he did in Iraq, and even just fireworks at the local college made his emotions run high. It was then that his mother came up with the idea to use the e-mails he sent to her from Iraq as a sort of therapy. Conklin began writing his feelings in great detail about post war until he was able to able to leave his dark chapter behind.

It was around that time he and a friend had been drinking at a local bar and realized that casting for MTV’s “The Real World” was being held there as well. After interviewing for fun, he received a call from MTV the next day asking for a second interview. After a couple of months of interviews, Conklin received a phone call asking if he was interested in being casted in the upcoming season of “Real World: Brooklyn.”

“It was a crazy experience, I went into it with open expectations,” he said.    

As his season of “Real World” began to wrap up, Conklin received a call from the military asking him to return to active duty. The MTV episode showed the emotional scene of him finding out he would be returning to Iraq. When the show began to air, Conklin was already back in Iraq. This time though, he found that it did not compare at all to the first tour. There was a sense of role reversal, where the Iraqi police were working more closely with the military and even a neighborhood watch.

“I was able to walk away happy to see the changes,” Conklin said. “I’m proud, and happy to be a part of it.”

When Conklin returned to the United States he attended college. From there he began writing a book of his journal entries called “An Angel from Hell,” the nickname of his unit, that was later published.

He stated that he has no further plans on wearing a uniform, and had also turned down the offer to partake in the MTV “Real World/Road Rules” challenge. He did make it clear though that he will never regret his choice to enlist in the United States Army.

“It opened up a lot of opportunities for me, exposed me to things that you can’t find in a classroom,” he said. “You only live once.”

BY NICOLE OLIN
Co-News Editor

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