Photo Information

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Senior Airman Eric Ryan has been deployed supporting operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, as well as many other operations as part of his job as a boom operator. In his free time, Airman Ryan pursues his love of acting. He is assigned to the 906th Air Refueling Squadron here. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol)

Photo by Staff Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol

Boom operator’s biggest stage is in air

2 Jun 2004 | Staff Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol

When he graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a bachelor's degree in acting, Eric Ryan's plans were not immediately focused on the Air Force.

It was not until the events of Sept. 11 that Senior Airman Ryan, a boom operator with the 906th Air Refueling Squadron here, said he first looked to the Air Force. That was when he felt inspired to serve his country. His acting career had to take a back seat.

Since entering the Air Force, Airman Ryan has been able to dabble in his “hobby” of acting, but he said the biggest role he has right now is serving his country.

“Right now, the KC-135 [Stratotanker] is my stage, and my audience is the receivers I provide fuel for,” Airman Ryan said. “I’m proud of what I do and for whom I am serving. No production can compare to the world as I see it through the boom window.”

Airman Ryan has deployed to several locations supporting operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Being deployed quite frequently makes working on any “large” theater or performing arts functions difficult.

“Being a flyer restricts the time at home to be involved in any big production,” Airman Ryan said. “It takes about eight weeks to put up a good production. Auditioning for a part is not fair to the cast and crew when I am called to … duty on opening night.”

Airman Ryan has been able to get in some acting opportunities though.

“In the summer of 2003, I volunteered to help with the Missoula Children’s Theatre performance here of 'Snow White,’” he said. “It was a blast.”

This past Easter he said he played the role of Jesus in a production at a forward-deployed location about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“Just recently, I was going to play the part of Blaine Barnacle, the groom, in a murder mystery, but duty called, and I am now out on deployment,” he said.

Being a boom operator has its challenges -- particularly while deployed, Airman Ryan said. Whether it is trying to get training completed on time or enduring a lot of family separation, he said he stays focused and draws from his work experience for the day he can use it as an actor in a “big” production.

“An actor creates emotions through life experiences,” Airman Ryan said. “Whether that character is required to laugh, cry or be angry, it all derives from a particular incident in life that the actor relives to generate a ‘true’ emotion. As a boom operator, I am receiving a flood of life experiences that will become quite useful on stage.”

Airman Ryan said someday there is nothing he would like to do more than acting.

“The feeling of walking on stage during opening night, having 1,500 people watch you walk across the stage and look for any hint of a mistake is remarkable,” Airman Ryan said. “To an actor, it's just their character and the other character interacting in daily activities, but to the audience, it's a story unfolding in front of their eyes.”

Airman Ryan said he would like to start something like a “Tops in Blue” for Air Force actors to do theater productions.

“We could acquire actors from all over the world, maybe 12 to 15, and have a repertoire of maybe four productions involving Shakespeare, comedy and drama,” Airman Ryan said. “We could travel from base to base with a different production each night.”

Airman Ryan said such an effort would have to start small.

“I thought of starting a team from Grand Forks where we would do a Midwest tour to places such as Minot Air Force Base, N.D., Ellsworth AFB in S.D., [and] McConnell [AFB] in Kansas,” Airman Ryan said.

Ultimately, Airman Ryan vows to fill his goal of becoming a full-fledged actor whether in the Air Force or otherwise. He said his goal right now is to do his part to win the war on terrorism.

“I’m a boom operator whose job it is to help provide global reach for our Air Force,” Airman Ryan said. “There is no acting gig that can be better than this real-life production.”
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