FORT BENNING, GA – In 1999, Kanaan Merriken was your average teenager, just looking for an opportunity to serve his country.
What follows, is an account of an extraordinary journey of drive and determination to become the Ranger, father and husband he is today.
Merriken volunteered for the U.S. Army October 1999, attended One Station Unit Training at Fort Benning, Ga., the Basic Airborne Course and the Ranger Indoctrination Program (now Ranger Assessment and Selection Program) and was assigned to Company B, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
In the opening days of Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001, Merriken deployed to Afghanistan in support of initial combat operations.
“I didn’t know what to expect. When we arrived in country we started preparing for Objective Rhino as well as other missions,” said Merriken. “It was a good learning experience and we were ready for war; I will say it was emotional to see FDNY on the back of Ranger equipment and I realized what we were fighting for.”
Merriken met his future bride, Kari Wood, August 2001 and they were married in Opelika, Ala., April 28, 2003.
Merriken deployed with the Battalion a second time June 2002 in support of OEF.
Combat operations began in Iraq March 2003, and during the invasion, Merriken participated in the seizure of Haditha Dam, an operation for which his company received a Valorous Unit Award.
Between these combat deployments and the ones that followed, Merriken attended the U.S. Army Ranger Course and attended the Emergency Medical Technician Basic Course. He served as a Ranger rifleman, grenadier, and squad automatic weapons gunner, and was his platoon’s secondary medic in addition to his other duties.
In June 2003, Merriken and 3rd Battalion deployed to Iraq for his fourth combat tour and his second to Iraq. Little did he know, this deployment would change his life forever.
During a mission in Baghdad June 26, 2003, Merriken’s ground assault convoy was attacked by an Improvised Explosive Device. Merriken was one of almost a dozen Rangers who were critically wounded in the attack.
Merriken suffered extensive wounds, including shrapnel in the neck, head, arms, legs and feet. But in true Ranger fashion, selflessly ignoring his own wounds he continued to perform his duties in assisting the combat medics for more than 15 minutes before he passed out from his wounds. However, Merriken has no recollection of performing these duties.
The platoon medics subsequently determined that Merriken had shrapnel damage to his brain, along with extensive damage to his carotid artery.
“I was notified by phone that Kanaan had been wounded,” said Kari. “I got the call while I was at work at TSYS Corporation. I was walking out for my lunch break and I saw the phone number calling was a 545 exchange.”
“I thought it was Kanaan calling me from overseas, but it was rear detachment calling me tell me about Kanaan,” said Kari.
Due to the extent of his wounds and the traumatic brain injury he suffered, the physicians treating Merriken assessed him as “expectant,” meaning that he was not expected to live. As a result, the U.S. Army medically retired him the next day and evacuated Merriken to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl, Germany where he remained near death for several days. Because of his resolute will to live, he defied the doctor’s expectations.
He continued to defy the physicians’ expectations over the following months, healing quickly from his wounds and returning to a functional life over the course of numerous surgeries.
Following his recovery, Merriken returned home to New Mexico with Kari to attend to his ill father. He attended college and worked in a military consulting firm which allowed him to continue to serve his country and the Army.
Throughout this time, Merriken harbored a continued longing to serve his country. This longing led him on a quest not only to serve his country in any way possible, but ultimately to rejoin his fellow Rangers in the War on Terror.
In 2005, Merriken and his wife Kari, made the decision to return to the U.S. Army.
“I came back in because I felt physically capable to meet the demands of being a U.S. Army Ranger and I wasn’t ready to give up on being a Ranger,” said Merriken. “I had just finished the 26-mile Bataan Death March in White Sands, New Mexico and felt my confidence come back.”
No doubt Merriken’s indomitable spirit as well as the unwavering support from his wife, led him to overcome the initial skepticism from his physicians and successfully pursue a lengthy and significant rehabilitation.
“Sgt. 1st Class Kanaan Merriken is the epitome of a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger, husband, father, and friend,” said Sgt. Maj. Victor A. Ballesteros, Regimental Operations Sergeant Major. “There is nothing that will ever overcome his determination and dedication to what life stands for. He has proven time and time again that defeat is not acceptable under any circumstances”.
On Sept. 21, 2005, Merriken reentered the Army, completed the Regiment’s four-week Ranger Indoctrination Program, and graduated with the Leadership Award and distinction as the Honor Graduate.
“I wanted Kanaan to get back into the Ranger Regiment,” said Kari. “I felt like we weren’t finished with ‘our’ time here. I felt like we belonged in Regiment.”
Merriken was assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, serving in the Battalion’s Reconnaissance Platoon. During his time with 3rd Bn., 75th Rgr. Rgt., he deployed four times to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan as a reconnaissance specialist, team leader and squad leader; for a total of ten combat deployments encompassing his entire Army career.
While Merriken’s professional career was on track, however in July 2010, his personal life took a difficult turn when his son, Caleb then two, was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
“There is no cure or treatment for this degenerative disease; Kari and I have to be able to adapt with the progression of Caleb’s disease,” said Merriken.
The leadership at Regiment provided Merriken an opportunity to continue to serve the 75th Ranger Regiment while still take care of his family.
In April 2011, Merriken competed in the grueling Best Ranger Competition.
“It was a challenge and something I wanted to test myself on,” said Merriken. “We didn’t win, but we did finish, and that was important to me.”
“I left the battalion and moved up to the Regimental headquarters and became the Master Breacher,” said Merriken. “This gave me the opportunity to take care of my family and stay in Regiment.”
Merriken, now a sergeant first class has achieved another dream…the right to be called a Ranger Platoon Sergeant. He recently completed the Regiment’s three-week Ranger Assessment and Selection Program 2 and has been assigned to Company C, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
He also reenlisted for the third time March 15 and is now on indefinite status, essentially giving the Army the next 10 years of his life.
“In an organization that is legendary for its heroisms and accomplishments, his story is that much more inspiring,” said Lt. Col. Brandon Meno, Regimental Fire Support Coordination Officer. “Sgt. 1st Class Merriken is a true warrior in every sense of the word.”
“I’ve reenlisted three times during my career,” said Merriken. “The first time was for the bonus, the second time because I wanted to be a squad leader, but this time, I finally figured out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life – be an Army Ranger.”
Kari wholeheartedly supports her husband.
“It was the best decision for our family. I want Kanaan to be able to be with his brothers and deploy again,” said Kari. “He has really missed that. I know it will make things harder for me and Caleb when we are home alone, but I just want Kanaan to be happy.”
“Being in the Army is fun and there is so much to do that I couldn’t do anywhere else,” said Merriken. “I enjoy everything that comes with the job.”
His military education includes the U.S. Army Ranger Course, the Basic Airborne Course, the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program, the Warrior Leader Course, the Jumpmaster Course, the Senior Leader Course and the Advanced Leader Course.