By Manny Crisostomo
In a span of 10 months Ryan Blas graduated from high school, turned 18, enlisted in the Army, proposed to his high school sweetheart Julie Manibusan Gogue, completed basic training in Missouri, married Julie in a civil ceremony in Northern California, completed Army school in Texas, flew back to Guam on 48 hours’ rest and had a proper large Guam Catholic wedding, a week later he and his bride moved to Virginia his first Army duty station, and a month after that found out they were pregnant with their daughter Ha’ane Rae.
“That was the beginning of Ryan’s lovely life,” said Julie, his wife of 24 years, with a straight face before breaking down in giggles.
In the summer of 1996 and a month after graduating Guam Community College High School and turning 18, Ryan Blas drove from Talo’fo’fo’ with Jason Naputi, his best friend and classmate since Head Start, to the military recruiting offices at GCIC Building in Hagåtña with the intention to just talk and to get information but ended up making a life-changing decision.
“It was more like a last minute, I didn’t go to college and wanted to do something else,’’ the 42-year-old recalled. “Me and my best friend decided to go to the recruiting office and we just decided to join.”
For decades the West Soledad Avenue commercial building annex has housed the island’s recruiting offices for branches of the armed services and has witnessed hundreds of Guam men and women seeking opportunity with military service.
Ryan Blas and Naputi kept their July enlistment plan secret as they filled out paperwork, took tests and scheduled a physical.
When they were officially sworn in September, “we didn’t want to tell anybody, not even our parents,” Ryan Blas said of the oath of enlistment ceremony.
“Nobody knew till after the fact,” added Julie Blas. “I didn’t know they joined until after till after they joined and I said OK.”
The two young enlistees left Guam in October 1996 for basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in central Missouri, they even went to the same Army school in San Antonio, Texas, choosing health care administration as an Army career choice.
Naputi was best man at Ryan and Julie’s wedding in March 1997 at St. Lourdes Church in Yigo. He is the godfather to Ha’ane, and the couple are godparents to Naputi’s daughter.
The families stayed close even though they were stationed in different countries or on different coasts.
The family moved 10 times during Ryan’s military career and was able to connect with other CHamorus during that time.
“It wasn’t hard at all, you would just meet and then you kinda have get-togethers, you click with everybody and you just kinda make them your family because in the military that is really all you have,” Julie, a 43-year-old former Dededo resident, said.
“It could take weeks of meeting them and we are already at each other’s houses cooking our CHamoru dishes. They became family at the end.”
In 2008 Ryan Blas deployed to Iraq, attached to the 115th Army Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad working in administration, admitting and discharging soldiers and filling in medical records and death certificates.
His wife and daughter decided to stay with family on Guam during Ryan’s wartime deployment. Julie Blas was nervous but the couple stayed in touch with short phone calls every day, or every other day, or whenever her husband had an opportunity.
After his hospital shift, Ryan Blas would set up his grill and barbecue in front of his Containerized Housing Unit, a 10-foot shipping container converted to living quarters that he shared with another soldier.
“We made CHamoru food in Baghdad,” he said. “I met a classmate out there from Inarajan Middle school, we would barbeque.” He added that Guam-style barbeque had a distinct smell and it would attract other CHamorus. He met at least two dozen local boys deployed in Iraq the same time he was there.
After two decades in the army, Ryan Blas and Jason Naputi started talking about their future plans.
“One of us was like ‘I am going to retire’ and then the other would say ‘Yea, I am going to retire too.’ So we end up just retiring at the same time,” said Ryan Blas, who retired as an Army Sergeant first class.
Twenty-two years after that fateful drive from Talo’fo’fo’ to the army recruiting station in Hagåtña, both men received their retirement package at the same time, Ryan Blas in Washington and Naputi in Virginia.
“We moved all over the United States to include two countries (Italy and Korea) and then he retired in 2018 and now we are residing in Olympia, Washington, and we both work for the federal government,” Julie Blas said.
Their daughter is now 23 and graduating this December with a nursing degree from Pacific Lutheran University.
“I wanted her to have a CHamoru name because I knew that we were going to be — Ryan, was going to be — in the military for a long time and I just wanted her to have a piece of our culture. Ha’ane means daytime. She just looked like a Ha’ane,” Julie Blas added.
“We are settled in Washington and have no intentions of moving back to Guam to live forever,” Julie Blas said. “It’s more so for our daughter, there are more opportunities for her here and I do not want to leave her or be far away from her.”
But they all miss the island, including Ha’ane, who loved being on Guam and hearing her name on the radio in CHamoru songs.
“But we plan to go and visit,” Julie Blas added. “Normally every time we go home it is not for a celebration, you know. It is always for a death in the family, but we make do while we are there and then we come back to our lives in Washington.”
Manaotao Sanlagu is Manny Crisostomo’s ongoing visual documentary of CHamorus from the Marianas living overseas that is featured weekly in the PDN. If you or someone you know would like to be part of this documentary or wish to support this project, contact Crisostomo at sanlagu.com. The project is sponsored in part by Brand Marinade, a CHamoru-owned creative agency in the San Francisco Bay Area.