ONE: a defender's story

RAF CROUGHTON, United Kingdom --
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ONE: a defender's story(U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton, animation by Staff Sgt. Joseph Vigil/Released)
ONE: a defender's story (U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton, animation by Staff Sgt. Joseph Vigil/Released)
The brilliant, blue lights flashed in tandem with one another as the white, Chevrolet Impala rolled along a stretch of road on the outskirts of RAF Croughton, United Kingdom. Inside, the driver scanned the surrounding area - his eyes hiding wisdom beyond his years.

"As a security forces member you still have to protect anyone, no matter if it's a big base or a small base - everything's the same," he said as his guided the patrol vehicle around a corner and into an area of base housing. "We took an oath to protect people no matter what."

Airman 1st Class Lance Ryans seemed to swell with pride as he spoke. As a patrolman with the 422nd Security Forces Squadron, he has experienced both the tranquility and unique dynamic of RAF Croughton during his nearly two years in the U.S. Air Force.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Lance Ryans, 422nd Security Forces Squadron patrolman, guides his cruiser through an area of on-base housing at RAF Croughton, United Kingdom, Nov. 5, 2014. For nearly two years, Ryans devoted himself to the protection and defense of the installation and the people on it. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton/Released)
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Lance Ryans, 422nd Security Forces Squadron patrolman, guides his cruiser through an area of on-base housing at RAF Croughton, United Kingdom, Nov. 5, 2014. For nearly two years, Ryans devoted himself to the protection and defense of the installation and the people on it. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton/Released)

"Being at a small base actually makes our mission better," Ryans said. "A smaller population lets you have more contact with the individuals you are protecting. It helps me take more heed to what I am doing if I know a person and their child live on this base. The mission becomes a personal responsibility."

The rolling hills and sheep-filled pastures of Croughton have certainly offered Ryans an opportunity to get to know his fellow Airmen and neighbors in the local community. In some ways, he said, life in the United Kingdom is a stark contrast to his hometown of Philadelphia.

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"There's a lot of people and a lot of things going on in Philadelphia," he said. "I saw the good side of things and the bad side of things. I won't say it was all bad, but it's a good to say you have lived it and experienced a different outlook on life."

Life in Philadelphia gave Ryans the motivation to push himself and strive for success - a mentality that followed him into the military.

"I didn't go to a bad high school," Ryans commented. "So it was a lot of competition in my high school - a lot of people who were very smart."

Even at a young age, Ryans networked with his peers - which is how he found himself sitting across from a recruiter and asking about life in the Air Force.

"A few friends I had joined prior to me coming in," he said. "They motivated me to join and make the most of my time in the service. It didn't really come as a shock to my parents, since my brother had been in the Navy for nine years."

Although his parents were supportive, Ryans said they expected him to go to college immediately after graduation and pursue his dream of studying law. Fortunately, as an Airman and a Defender, he is able to have both a hands-on and classroom exposure to the legal world.

"One of the main reasons I came in was for education," Ryans said. "I also wanted the experience and the ability to look back and say I served my country."

Ryans' sense of patriotism extends far beyond simple rhetoric and into his everyday life, either on patrol or checking identification at the installation's gate.

Airman 1st Class Lance Ryans, 422nd Security Forces Squadron patrolman, checks an identification card at the main gate to RAF Croughton, United Kingdom, Nov. 5, 2014. Ryans makes it a point to politely greet individuals who access the installation and set a positive tone for their visit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton/Released)
Airman 1st Class Lance Ryans, 422nd Security Forces Squadron patrolman, checks an identification card at the main gate to RAF Croughton, United Kingdom, Nov. 5, 2014. Ryans makes it a point to politely greet individuals who access the installation and set a positive tone for their visit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton/Released)


"I love the gate," he said, with a smile on his face. "I've met a lot of individuals at the gate. I make sure to say 'hello, how are you,' and then their name. I don't just look at the ID card and give it back to them, I tell them to have a great day or not to work too hard."

It's the small interactions and little jokes that make people feel comfortable with Defenders, Ryans said. He wants people who work or visit RAF Croughton to take his positive attitude and let it motivate them toward having a better day or paying the kindness forward.

"Ultimately all those people are my Wingmen," Ryans said. "If something were to happen, I have to depend on that person next to me - whether you know them or not. Everyone on this base is your Wingman, because you never know when you might need them and they never know when they might need you."

Building those communication lines from the very first interaction at the gate all the way to random encounters while on patrol is essential to developing positive relationships with the people Ryans is sworn to protect and defend.

"My old job was a waiter, so I was customer service - I was making people happy in order for me to make my ends meet," he said. "Now, at the gate or on patrol, it's being there for another person makes them feel at ease when they see you again. I just like customer service - it's my work of art."

By making his mission about the people, Ryans is able to transcend his artistic vision of service into bringing the Air Force Core Values alive.

Airman 1st Class Lance Ryans, 422nd Security Forces Squadron patrolman, scans the horizon at RAF Croughton, United Kingdom, Nov. 5, 2014. Ryans said he sees opportunities to live the U.S. Air Force Core Values every day through the application of his duty as a Defender.(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton/Released)
Airman 1st Class Lance Ryans, 422nd Security Forces patrolman, scans the horizon at RAF Croughton, United Kingdom, Nov. 5, 2014. Ryans said he sees opportunities to live the U.S. Air Force Core Values every day through the application of his duty as a Defender. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton/Released)

"The Core Values mean a lot to me," he said. "Integrity is essential when doing this job. People look to you, and you have to do the right thing at all times - even if no one seems to be looking, because in actuality someone is always looking."

Ryans said putting integrity first is not a matter of convenience - just as excellence is a constant competition with himself.

"You have to strive to be the best," he said. "Who wants to be second? I remember a movie that said, 'if you're not first then you're last.'"

Whether excellence comes in the form of staying after work to pick up some additional on-the-job training, or volunteering to try new things outside of his comfort zone, Ryan believes that by being the best more opportunities will come his way.

"It's going to be hard work at first," Ryans began. "But, at the end of the day it always pays off."

The extra mile on the journey toward excellence is paved with the concept of service before self, Ryans said. It comes from both understanding the mission and its importance.

"Being a Defender is all about putting service before self," he said. "Something could happen, or someone could need you and you have to be willing and able to set aside personal desires to be that first responder."

Always on-call and ready to respond are cornerstones of what it means to be a Defender and a first responder, Ryans said. He looks forward to meeting and interacting with people and leaving them with a lasting, positive impression of an American Airman.

"Keeping calm when a situation arises and being there for people are what this job is all about," Ryans said. "There is nothing greater than helping others. It's good for the soul."

A police cruiser, driven by Airman 1st Class Lance Ryans, 422nd Security Forces Squadron patrolman, moves down the road at RAF Croughton, United Kingdom, Nov. 5, 2014. Ryans conducts dedicated patrols on the installation to promote a safe and secure environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton/Released)
A police cruiser, driven by Airman 1st Class Lance Ryans, 422nd Security Forces Squadron patrolman, moves down the road at RAF Croughton, United Kingdom, Nov. 5, 2014. Ryans conducts dedicated patrols on the installation to promote a safe and secure environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton/Released)

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