Frederick Co. soldier always gave `110 percent'

Lt. John R. Dennison, 24, killed in Iraq Wednesday

November 17, 2006|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,sun reporter

A 24-year-old soldier from Ijamsville who married his West Point college sweetheart was killed in combat Wednesday in Iraq, according to his family.

1st Lt. John Ryan Dennison died after suffering two gunshot wounds during fighting east of Baghdad, his family said. The Department of Defense has not publicly announced his death. Lieutenant Dennison, the eldest son of Army parents, was a fiercely competitive athlete and a determined soldier who reveled in every challenge, said his mother, Shannon Dennison.

"He had to be wherever the challenge was; he always had to do things on the edge," she said. "And he always had to do things his way."

So it was no surprise when "Ryan," as he was called by his family, became a star on the wrestling and football teams at Urbana High School, despite being a slight 165 pounds.

Or when he was accepted to the elite skydiving team at U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Or when, several years ago, he decided to run the grueling John F. Kennedy 50-mile race through Western Maryland.

"He just did everything 110 percent," his mother said. "He played hard; he did sports hard, and he did his studies hard."

Lieutenant Dennison played offensive guard on the Frederick County high school's varsity football team when the school won back-to-back state championships in 1998 and 1999. Throughout his football career at Urbana, he never played in a losing game, said his father, Jack Dennison.

Hanging on his bedroom wall was a poster emblazoned with a quote by football legend Vince Lombardi: "Expect to Win."

And that's how he approached life.

After graduating from Urbana in 2000, Lieutenant Dennison went to West Point, where he majored in international relations and became a history buff, taking a keen interest in the Civil War.

He was accepted onto the academy's skydiving team and became its president his senior year.

"Getting into skydiving was like getting into a fraternity," said Jack Dennison. "He was a risk-taker. He had very little fear and to my knowledge, he rarely showed it."

Though he was known for his focus and dedication, Lieutenant Dennison had a fun-loving side and had many friends, who considered him the life of the party, said his mother.

"When Ryan was in the game, he had a game face and was absolutely serious," said his father. "But when it came time to relax, he relaxed."

Lieutenant Dennison met his wife, Haley Dennison, also 24, in a philosophy course at West Point and proposed to her their junior year. They married in July 2004, a month after graduating from West Point.

The newlyweds took a honeymoon cruise around the Mediterranean shortly before being forced to part ways for officer training that fall.

Their respective training courses kept them apart for several months, but the couple reunited in the spring 2005 when both were stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., where they bought a house and became active members of their church.

Though both were raised religiously - he as a Catholic and she as a Baptist - the Dennisons deepened their faith as a couple. Lieutenant Dennison read the Bible every day, his parents said.

The couple would be forced to separate again when Haley Dennison was deployed to Afghanistan in March. This summer, it was Lieutenant Dennison's turn to be deployed, first to Kuwait, then Iraq.

A platoon leader in a cavalry regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, Lieutenant Dennison viewed serving in Iraq as the ultimate test of everything he had trained for in life, said Shannon Dennison.

"He wanted to go; he was excited to go; he wanted the chance to lead," she said. "It was sort of the culmination of all the training. It was his moment."

Lieutenant Dennison's wife is expected to return from Afghanistan soon, said Jack Dennison.

"She's devastated," he said. "They were very much in love. I think they were an ideal couple. Her mother said to me today that they were so perfect, that no one thought anything like this would happen."

Services had not been arranged as of last night, the family said.

In addition to his wife and parents, Lieutenant Dennison is survived by a brother, Christopher Dennison, and a sister, Colleen Dennison.

kelly.brewington@baltsun.com

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