Bethany Ryals and Catiya Gainor

Recorded September 14, 2021 Archived September 14, 2021 38:10 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: ddv001139


Catiya Gainor (68) interviews her friend Bethany Ryals (66) about her career as a military colonel.

Subject Log / Time Code

- Bethany begins the conversation by giving a brief overview of her experience in the military.
- Bethany shares that she learned about the complexity of cultures, the artificial nature of nation-state boundaries, and the fundamental evil of war.
- Bethany shares her belief that Americans shouldn’t be proud of our country’s involvement in wars.
- Bethany admits that the military doesn’t offer solutions to the conflicts, but it can hold a space so the true solutions can take place.
- Catiya asks Bethany to talk about her experience being a female in the military.
- Bethany discusses the widespread apathy that American people have for serving others and working together.
- Bethany shares her belief that war is not a football game, it is carnage.
- Catiya asks Bethany about the best parts of serving in the military.
- Catiya shares what she's learned from chatting with Bethany.


  • Bethany Ryals
  • Catiya Gainor

Recording Location

Virtual Recording


Partnership Type



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00:01 My name is Katya Gaynor. And today's date is September 14th. 2021. I'm here with Lieutenant Colonel, Bethany Ryals. And our relationship is as friends buddies. And how old are you? I am 68. So today is Tuesday, September 14th. 2021. I'm 66 years old. My name is Bethany Ryals Lieutenant. Colonel Bethany Ryals. And I'm a friend of coffee. Who is interviewing me today. I think what we're going to do is I have some stories to tell about my 32 years in the Air Force Reserves. And then Katya was going to ask questions that she was curious about. And

00:54 Like I said, I've spent 32 years and they are for us, mostly in the reserves. I was active duty for 4 years on and off the thing that's interesting about being 32 years in the military is, there's countless stories of experiences and things to tell, but mostly it's the things that I've learned that are. I think the most interesting and I did spend my first four years enlisted. I was enlisted 12 and listed five, which is a Staff Sergeant. I was a medical technician. We make the back of a cargo plane into a hospital. Ward pre-op. Post-op patients. We fly them from theater to theater. So 5 to 10 hours, lights across the ocean or the continents.

01:42 And after that, I became an operations officer in the same, Squadron, because in my school and job, I was a vice principal dean of students coach teacher. And I realized, I wasn't working in the medical career field, and if you want to be good at something, you have to practice. And since I wasn't practicing, I was practicing being a ministrator. So I switched jobs, and as an operations officer, I was mostly responsible for, you know,

02:10 Mission launching Mission recovering, supervising cruise, and we went to Iraq. We went to Desert Storm.

02:20 In the first Iraq, and the thing I learned in that experience is that when you join the military and you raise your hand and you swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States that you will be asked to do things that you met personally. Not necessarily agree with and because you took the job, and you took the pennies and you swore to do it, then you have to pay the man, then you do need to go. And when I said we were activated and went to Desert Storm, 95% of contingency medicine is done by reservist because we're making more money in the civilian world in the military. Doesn't strictly Want to Hold Us on active duty, so,

03:01 I said I was myself and I thought about it cuz I really didn't agree with the mission of Desert Storm Desert Shield made sense to me, but does it storm? There was a reason to invade that contradicts the difference between the two, what age was when Iraq invaded Kuwait and they were rabble-rousing on the border saying we're going to do this, we're going to do this. And then there is a bunch of troops, Saudi troops in American troops and NATO troops that lined up on the border sang. Oh, no, you're not. And that was Desert Shield and then Desert Storm was after Iraq. Invaded Kuwait, then, Desert Storm was going in and

03:43 Relieving Kuwait of the invasion. They said it was. Okay, for me was interesting, is I, I realized after I went to war, you know, my, my little self said, you know, you really have to be there and it's critically important that all people are represented in the military and that you go and you speak your truth to speak the truth to power, and you do your job, the best you can. And you do your service like you were trained and paid and you agreed to do. So, I forgot my contact and I went to, where I was in 26, different countries that year. I was in Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, and I ended up in Eastern Turkey, and Northern Iraq with the Kurdish refugees. Just a situation where there was, you know, several million Kurds.

04:30 And I learned a lot about culture and about nation state.

04:37 Artificial boundaries that don't relate to cultural boundaries and two tribal boundaries and that the way we create Nations over history mostly as you do natural resources, strategic location and political economic allies and certainly in that region. In other nations have been boundaries, have been artificially, created a most boundaries are going to be sitting there and watching the credit people live their lives and you know, helping

05:12 NATO forces, get in and out of the country, if they were injured or sick.

05:16 And so that also in Desert Storm. I learned that basically I'm a, I'm a conscientious objector. And that means that I understand that war tonight. My way of thinking is fundamentally wrong. I think it's bizarre to me that our species All Through. Time, on all continents and all cultures. We've organized ourselves to kill each other and he's very strange ways. And that in some regards. It represents the very worst of what we are as a species and the fact that our country is maybe more highly skilled at it than any other organization in the history of our species is not something to be particularly proud of, on the Paradox of War. Besides. It's horrific and awful and it's just

06:07 I'm saying really is that even in that craziness? There are things that happened. That individuals represent the very best of what we are as a species. And I think it's that thing that glorifies war for us. And you know, when the present is give people medals and a purple hearts and all of the things that, you know, come with recognizing these individual fees, but the collective action of War I think is

06:41 Bazaar at best horrific and is a difficult thing to ever rationalizes good. The other thing that I learned after Desert Storm was that we

06:55 Had the opportunity to be mobilized in to be in contingency operations, really forever. You know, after Desert Storm. We went to Afghanistan which, you know, was really the original mission for 911 and

07:11 You have to get after the the terrorist Training Camps on the border of Afghan and Pakistan in the mountains. And to get after Osama Bin Laden witch, you know, 10 years later. The Obama Administration finally did and that was mission accomplished. I mean, that was you know, they got all of this Intel and they were able to really put those cells in complete disarray and to eliminate the person himself and that we got lost for 10 more years. And so it's interesting to watch the cultural aspect of military action. And one of the things you do in the military to do a lot of training in a Readiness is sort of the bottom line and I graduated from the air War College.

07:54 In order to, you know, it's a box of chocolate is a fascinating training. If you, if you take it in the time and place that it is in one of the most interesting readings I had was by the general who at the time was the commander of Southwest Asia theater. When I had served there and the gist of his teachings was that we have to understand that the military does not offer solutions to the complex on the planet today. The solutions are always diplomatic economic political education. Cultural Solutions what the military can do is the military can hold a space.

08:38 So that those Solutions have a chance to actually take hold. I've been in Serbia and Croatia. And, you know, the horrible genocide that happened there with the dissolution of Yugoslavia. And the people there would talk about the NATO peacekeeping forces and to be referred as a peacekeeping force, really demonstrates this holding of space that you can I stop or minimize the use of force and the violence long enough, that people have a chance to actually talk to each other, figure out what we, what they can do. And that really, according to this, General was the main purpose of the military.

09:19 And that the use of force really was not going to offer Solutions. So that the concept is, if you find the state department with the same Vigor that we over fund our military, that the job of the military actually becomes easier because the smart power forces have a chance to

09:41 Be more viable because they're ready to go. They have the same Readiness that the military has as far as sending people in, you know, Amanda Terry and a diplomatic aide intelligence, you know, everything that it takes to help people be on the same page. And you know, the interesting thing about serving in the military is that you learned that you don't have to like the people you're bored with, right? I mean, when you play the team sport, but you can be on the same team, you can be great teammates and you don't have to agree with each other or even really like each other that much. I mean, it's more fun if you do. But it doesn't matter really as long as you recognize your role in the team and you play a role and you recognize you're on the team. And so

10:28 Mostly the things that I've learned in the military is this whole concept of, you know, what's the purpose? What's our role? And what are we doing?

10:38 After Desert Storm, I came home and I realize we had these opportunities to be deployed Non-Stop and I thought, you know, how many times do you want to go to war in your life? And I thought I really didn't work socks and I really don't want to go again. And so I thought, well, where can I be of help? And so, I became a Les is on officer for the Air Force Academy in, for ROTC, and I had over the course of twenty years. I had 20 some high schools in western Washington and I talk to teenagers about what it means to serve your country. And what I learned in that situation was there was this amazing apathy where most people don't know anybody who's in the military, you know, 1% of our population serves in the military is an all-volunteer military. I think this is a huge mistake. I mean when I when I look at your growing up during the Vietnam era, there were these huge War protests. I mean, it was all across the country. It was this massive mobilization.

11:38 Consciousness and the reason that happened is because everybody knew somebody or love somebody who was in the draft who was going to have to go and so people cared, you know, they had to care and we don't have that. Now what we have is this apathy. Oh, you know, we can take all kinds of military actions, political act as economic actions of people don't know. They don't even pay attention. They rather go shopping or go to the mall or watch a movie, or you do have a drink at a bar or whatever, you know, they don't have to care, and I'm kind of a moderate liberal political person. And my little political South has become pro draft, Pro subscription.

12:19 And it doesn't have to be military service. You know, there's a lot of ways to serve your country. America is a great example of an organization, you know, you can be a teacher, you can be a teacher's assistant. You can be a senior in-home caregiver. You can be a forest firefighter, a trail Builder and there's tons of ways to serve your country. But what I have no patience for his apathy that you can take these rights without feeling any responsibility for them. And you look at any country, all of our NATO allies, you know, any country that's had devastating war on their soil. And they, they have mandatory service. And I just feel that all able-bodied men and women and evil-minded at age, 18 should be registered for the draft and registered to vote. I mean, talk about the most primary responsibility.

13:11 And between 18 and 24, you serve, you know, however, many months, 24 months is 18, months, whatever. But you get this sense that you belong to this country that you owe responsibilities to this country. You know, JFK, of course, his famous quote, is really the heart of this. You know, what, what can you give that many high schools? Do not have a graduation requirement of community service, but it's more than going to a food bank. It's it's this having friends all over the country having this sense of common Mission, you know, this Esprit de corps, you know, and this what it means to be a citizen and what your rights, and responsibilities really add up to, and I think about the citizenship of this country and, you know, those of us that were born to the citizenship.

14:04 I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be able to pass the citizenship test. But with the people that I know and people that have surgeries in the military who gave up so much and worked so hard to become citizens and they don't take it for granted. You know, they feel very strongly about their responsibilities. So

14:28 I've had many experiences in the military, but mostly it's the lessons. It's what you learn. It's how it it forms you as a person and and the people that you know, and for me the bottom right line in.

14:43 You know, everybody needs to serve. Everybody needs to be required to serve, and really sense. Vietnam. When we have had no subscription. We've also lost tapping into a huge talent pool. I mean, all the people that were drafted in Vietnam, you know, are now retired and have gone or gone and many of them stayed in the military. They never would have chosen it in the first place, but they added, you know, the bigger variety of people you have serving in the military, the healthier it's going to be, you know, the the the broader, the range, thought the broader, the range of culture.

15:22 And culture is not something.

15:26 You can train culture is something that is grown. And when you most of the disagreements on the planet are really cultural disagreements. I'm in Afghanistan. Is it busy? Most current example of this and what happens when you just fundamentally disagree with the culture and you go in and you hold the space for 20 years? And you know, you're trying to root out this concept of terrorism and do in the in the course of twenty years. You change the culture. I mean, women and girls go to school. They start businesses, you raise the economy a little bit and go from Villages the cities, you know, what happened after 20 years? In the thousands of year old culture comes back to take over. I'm going to be interesting to watch. But the truth is of course the war on terror is still alive. It's probably our main mission on the planet and it's a it's a diplomatic mission is an education Mission. It's a it's a

16:26 State Department funding issue Mission, so I'm Lieutenant Colonel Royals. I served 32 years in the Air Force Reserves and I have stories to tell all such an honor for me to hear your stories. And I and I appreciate your perspective Bethany because you're being purse while a woman in the military. I don't know any other myself. I don't know any other women who served and not even very many people in general who served since you surprised. You said it's a very small percentage and I think you have an interesting dichotomy of being a conscientious objector who's also in the military and really wanting to help people who are wounded and injured and unaffected by the worst. I'm curious how it was for you.

17:21 40 years ago as a woman and things have changed quite a bit in 40 years for women, but I'm wondering how

17:33 Is a window into our, our society as a whole. And that the things that happened in the military are things that happened society-wide and I do think because it's an all the volunteer military. If you looked at the demographics of the military is fine that it doesn't accurately represent the demographics of our country. I do think that people who

18:00 Need a job. Go for the military. I think people may be a color and lower economic groups are disproportionately represented. I need to get a college education out of it.

18:24 Yeah, it's not a first choice. They have many options. So as far as being female in the military is kind of an interesting position because there's a wreck. And so I mean, my brother graduated from the Air Force Academy in the seventies, and there was the first female instructor there and she was a Olympian diver Nikki like at member name in any way you took the diving class from here and I said, well, how was it having a female for an instructor?

18:59 So there is a structure, there are customs and courtesies. There's ways you are trying to behave however in the social situations, you know, the misbehavior the Uno sexual assault, the sexism, you know, all of it exist in the same window that our culture of the whole existence. So those are all issues to constantly. Look now. I was in a medical Squadron, so we were 70% female, nurses, still today. I think tend to be more predominant percentage. Female at the time. There were very few male nurses, plenty of wonderful male nurses.

19:40 So my father in particular River, very popular Squadron.

19:53 I do think you do women in the military. Now. I have a 2025 %, some of the interesting things. I was at the NATO fighter pilot school in Northern Texas, which I'm not sure if it's still there, but it was Bannon, native has always had female fighter pilots and I was sitting in a bar, the fighter pilot car and I was a little bit older. I was 26, or 27. In a lot of these people are in a fresh out of college that are 22.

20:22 23 and it was a little bit like chaperoning Middle School Dance, you know, I mean there was the same feeling of you do all these guys don't know what they're going to do, and I was talking to when he said. So you've always instructed, female fighter pilot has always had females tend to be less emotional. They aren't so, you know how to follow a checklist and stick with the recipe and, you know, get the mission done and keep their cool and they don't get all riled up about it. I mean, players, good team players.

21:07 Focus in emotion and I don't know, you probably should check this with the physio people. But many women have a little tiny bit, higher blood pressure and so they could take G's and they could hold Maneuvers for just a few second longer. And when you're going 100 miles an hour, it makes a big difference. So I looked at him and I said, you know, I don't know that. This is really a gender issue. I, I think that maybe it's an individual issue in the kinds of women that are going to apply for this job. Have these characteristics already that they, you don't have develop the sense of being able to stay focused, stay on target, you know, complete the mission, you know, contain their emotions. And that, that maybe is not a gender issue as an individual issue, but what a fascinating conversation. So, women in the military, I think the bottom line is

22:05 Women are just as good if not better than men and there's absolutely no reason for them. Not to try every single job that's available. And I'm I do think there's some jobs individuals are better at than other individuals and you know, you shouldn't have the option to go for it. And I think it my career was

22:26 Maybe 86 when women were first allowed in combat, which to me a sort of humor is cuz you know, women have always been in combat, women have always died in combat in the history of the species. Women have never not been an integral part of the war, you know, and maybe it wasn't as an official rank that they've always been there. And so, that's her crack me up. But I had a number of my students, my high school kids that, you know, accepted appointments to Academy in order to Sea and became pilot, some of them in the Navy, some of them in the Air Force and had wonderful career, doing it, you know, serving in the military. I mean, it's it's a, it's a wonderful opportunity. You can get training there that you really can hardly get any place else and it set you up in a way and, and not only Technical Training and job skills training, but team training leadership training experience.

23:22 And now you come out of it with this more mature attitude about who you are, how you sent, what you can do, how you can get better at it. And that's this whole sense of service that I I just come back to over and over again. I mean my primary lesson after 32 years, is that every male and female

23:46 Must have a chance to serve and choose a service that speaks to them calls to them and and gets to serve and

23:57 The apathy. The rights without the responsibilities is just not acceptable.

24:04 I wonder how we can get that implemented. If you need to run for the president. Still register 18 year old men for a draft and we don't register women and I'm like, that's ridiculous ridiculous. So at least that would be a start, you know, tagging onto that registering for the draft and, you know, some kind of automatic registration for the vote. I understand that voting is a, is a primarily a state law, you know, but automatic registration to vote at the age. 18, you know, it's the fundamental responsibility and you can see how powerful it is. I mean, it's become sort of a main political tour today, Google today and, you know, to Ledges State voter suppression is. It's bizarre to me. It's like, it should be automatic. Do you know, everyone should be registered to vote? It should be as simple. And

25:04 Where as it can possibly be, you know, set it up like the driver's license office, you know, if people find that to be a nightmare, but it's still, you know, I mean our state's voting by mail for over a decade and it's simple, it's clean. It's safe. It's you know, that the expansion of the kinds of people who vote. I mean, it's the same reason you want a draft as you want the bigger variety of people who participate, I think the greater the possibility for wisdom. So yeah, that's the basis of democracy.

25:37 Yeah, maybe we need to have Bethany. Why? Lieutenant Colonel Bethany Ryals for president the office and I'm like that's real.

25:56 What's up? What was one today? Why don't you give me one?

26:00 Anecdote or thing that you thought was just the worst part of being in the military or the worst thing you had to do being in the military. I'll follow that with what's the best but I'd like to hear something, is horrible, war is horrible. And the death and destruction is

26:25 Coral and you do Desert Storm, you know why I came back from one of my downrange flights into Saturday, and I'm they ran out of building so they ended up building me on the 27th floor at the Marriott Hotel in Downtown Frankfort. And I'm like really it's 3 in the morning. I am in my flight suit. I'm covered with desert dust and I'm hungry and there's no food. There is no, it's 3. So I called out and they're like, I'm sorry ma'am, but the kitchen's closed. I do have a Cognac and strawberries dipped in chocolate and then I will see you then had just come out, right? And so during Desert Storm CNN was his brand new thing and I turned it on and there was this ticker tape parade.

27:12 And I New York City and they were going. Yeah, you know, we won the war and hardly anybody was hurt and I was sort of devastated because the truth is there were tens of thousands of Iraqis that were chilled and war is not a football game. I mean, it's not my team against your team, the scrimmage Line in the Sand and woohoo. We want, you know, what the truth is. These guys had dug trenches, they were out in the desert. They didn't have any water. They didn't have food. Our tanks, came barreling across the desert and these guys jumped out and surrendered as fast as I could. And sometimes our tanks were going so fast. They ran over these guys and buried them alive. And you know, who am I? I mean, there's just Carnage, there's just Carnage and when you serve in the backfield and army MASH nurses, you know, oh my God, that the

28:03 The assembly line of Gore and gruesomeness that goes by them hour, after hour day after day, you know, this is this is what PTSD is, you know, you have to cram it and cram, it increment increment because you don't have time to deal with it. And so you just have to keep going and just have to keep working and then back to the same way. I mean, in the six months, I was there we moved, you know, thousands of patients and that everyone has a story and you never know the end of that story. You do the best you can to take care of him. You do the best you can to get him to the care. They need and you never have any closure. You never have any

28:43 You know, understanding of really, what happened to these people. You just do the best you can for going to.

28:49 1214 hour shift, 7 days a week and you just keep going. And so it's the, it's the

28:57 Again, it's the apathy thinking, you know, who is the football game for my side. And it's not, it's horrible. And you're a President. Biden said it beautifully last week when he was talking about pulling out of Afghanistan and how you can't ever say there's minimal effect because it's devastating. It's devastating to, every single individual who is maimed or injured mentally or physically to their families, to the region, where they were to the, you know, the innocent bystanders who are forever scarred.

29:35 You know, where socks, it's terrible. And you can't ever think that it's reality TV. You can't ever think that it's just a video game, you know, you can't ever think that it's not real human cost and you know, it makes me cry just thinking about it because it's it's that sort of cultural Shield that we have on ourselves where we think I would ever get it. It's a sporting event. And I think you know, it's one of the things with the drones, you know that I mean, I have a number of students who became drawn pilots and they

30:15 You know, they fly out of bases here in the United States and they have a mission and they fly over there and they blow somebody up and they go home to their family and have dinner and take the kids to soccer practice. You know, it's an interesting separation from the reality of what we are actually doing and then I go back to service. I go back to, you know, what, the only reason people cared in Vietnam is because they had to. Because everybody knew somebody. I mean, you're a perfect example, you don't know anybody, right? You have to know somebody that has to be personal? It has to be, you know, that at least once you had to go and say, oh, this is an opportunity. This is makes me real. Makes it more real.

31:01 You know, the horror of war. There's, there's no minimizing it ever. So what was the best part, you know, the best part really would be?

31:13 Yeah, the best humanity and all kinds of ways, the richness of the experience, the richness of the adventure. The friends, I got to do it with.

31:37 You know, my life is just a wonderful tapestry now because of that, so,

31:46 You know, the best part of serving is is that you get this, this wonderful richness that you really feel today. I'll let you know. I'll text some of my roommates and I was saying, was that the weirdest thing we ever did or not lives in or like yes, thank you climbing on and off planes, you know, racing through the desert or in a Humvee with the doors off, you know, I mean, there's just it goes on and on I'm all the crazy Adventures. There are to be had and then to come back and to have this training in this experience where you can go into the civilian world. And you know, the Army has done a really good job of having their training accredited in this building world. They're not done as good. A job where you can go directly into the civilian World, in your training has been accredited and you can test them to you know, certifications but

32:44 But the other thing I have to admit is my pension people, say, thank you for your service. And I sent, you know, thank you for my pension. I, I spent 32 years I very much. I earned it. It's not a huge amount but it makes all the difference in the world to me. And just so you know, this is this is what your tax dollars, so go to. So sounds like you totally deserved it and earned it and work for it and

33:11 I hope you get to enjoy your golden retirement years with your little pension and your

33:19 Family life. Thank you so much.

33:27 Trinity and has to choose from a menu of options for how to serve their country that we will be a much richer country for it and, you know, the rights and the responsibilities need to align

33:49 Better and it might be kind of interesting to have to pass the citizenship test in order to get a high school diploma, right? I would like to look at. It's like really because I haven't

34:00 So we have to be able to read to do that.

34:11 You know, I suppose education. I mean, I spent 22 years as a teacher. So

34:16 You know, the information age and deciphering and decoding, you know, rabbit holes from Dad effects.

34:25 I think in some ways, the military helps with that. I think it's a misnomer. When people think there's only a certain kind of person that serves in the military. I think there's a huge variety of people.

34:40 You know, I'm an example of that and there's plenty of people like me that serve in the military, so,

34:47 You know, it is a cross-section of of who we are Society wise and a lot of the most, if not all of the same issues exist.

34:57 You know, the military is not separate from our culture as a whole lot. I think I had the misconception until now that serving in the military meant serving to support a condone war. And now I see that just the opposite, really? That's like you say, if everyone had a service to put in like they do say in Israel or you just 18 and he's been couple years of service. It could be. I think it would really help, people Oriental eyes and feel that kind of Gap.

35:32 After High School before they start into a college out of people's personal problems to get structure and discipline and meaning, and Direction and a job. You know, I think it's sort of humors to watch today and all I just, I can't find a job that has meaning and it's like really a paycheck paint job, your brother speaks to your heart or not. It sticks to your family and your soul in your house. If I get a job jobs to be had.

36:23 And you do come out of Richard stronger, better person in our society as a whole, I think really would too. So

36:30 Yeah, it's been a while.

36:34 I'm very pleased that I stayed with the program for 32 years. There's really nothing.

36:43 You know, I would do differently about it.

36:46 There were so many situations, were just me being there who I am and being able to speak in uniform, two people helped.

36:57 Call mrs. Eurasian or or clarify the situation or you know, it was it was it was a good thing to be there. So.

37:07 Well.

37:09 Seems like the world's a better place for having had you all gosport's. Thanks. I appreciate your perspective and your teacher ship.

37:34 You know, legislators talking to them, writing letters, making phone calls, you know.

37:42 I do there was something a couple weeks ago. I didn't follow up on it. But I am retired, you know, why did my 45 years of working and getting to be on this interview process storycorps? And yeah, I hope we told you some stories.

38:03 Thanks, Bethany.