Life After Serving in the Military

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In 2003, Ryan Kaufman was in the National Guard, serving in Iraq. It was the height of the war. The fighting was intense. There was danger in the most ordinary things.

“In Iraq the most dangerous part was actually driving every day, cause that’s typically where the insurgents tried to kill Americans. Was with road side bombs, so just every day driving was the most dangerous part,” said Kaufman.

Kaufman was sent to Iraq to help build bridges. But the bombings got so bad…his unit got new orders: find those roadside bombs.

It was a risky job, but Kaufman survived, and even went back for a second tour in Kosovo. But that dangerous past helped Kaufman make a new future.

“I always said, I wanted to go back and find a job and teach because I’ve always loved history,” said Kaufman.

He got his teaching degree. His walls are full of American History. And that’s exactly what he teaches at Century High School.

One of his history students Payton Gibbs said, “His enthusiasm really just made history a lot easier to deal with all the homework I had all the essays we had and it become more than just work and I actually looked forward to going to class every day.”

Kaufman’s students say they look at history differently now, especially when talking about the Iraq war.

Senior Jordan Hagg said, “Whenever he was explaining it to us about his war experiences the people over there are actually just like us and they’re just as nice, just as friendly and it’s all about knowing who they are going over there and meeting them to really decide what exactly the people are like.”

Mr. Kaufman shows pictures to his students which teaches them something they can’t get out of a textbook.

Sarah Ashley who took Kaufman’s class said, “He really brought inside stories about the people he went over there with, the people he met those he worked for and it was a lot better than learning just the logistics of war.”

And that mission to find the roadside bombs? Kaufman survived it. Three of his closest friends did not. Their deaths are part of Kaufman’s history lessons, too.

“I try to as much as I can to honor the military members who don’t make it home. I think it’s one of the most important parts of my job and I talk about John and Kenny and Keith the most because they were the three when we went but when we landed in Bismarck, they didn’t get off the plane with us,” said Kaufman.

“History,” after all, is really just a collection of remarkable human stories. And while Kaufman says he’ll always be proud of his military service…he’s just as honored to be a teacher…and a teller of stories.

Kaufman does not consider himself an American Hero. Instead he says the men that sacrificed their lives and died are the real heroes.