On a chilly morning in central Oregon, retired Staff Sgt. Ryan Craig put on his helmet for the first time in four years. But more meaningful than the Kevlar the Army presented to him on Thursday was the hole in the helmet, from a sniper's bullet in Afghanistan.
That rifle round struck Craig's skull and changed everything. But it didn't kill him.
When he saw the helmet at the ceremony, he felt "kind of a deep sense of admiration," he said, "because it saved my life."
"It went well. I didn't know what it was going to look like," Craig said of the ceremony. Asked what he felt when he saw the helmet, he responded: "Kind of a deep sense of admiration. Because it saved my life."
He has improved steadily since coming out of his coma. Though he requires constant care he has a provisional driver's license now.
"Ryan doesn't take 'no' for an answer very well. That's probably why he's done as well as he has," Miller said. "He had to learn how to walk and talk and everything. If he didn't have that mindset, I don't think he'd be doing that well."
'He should not be alive'
But back in 2010, he was He credited the helmet for slowing down the bullet, the quick thinking of his team to get him out quickly, and the skill of the surgeons for Craig's survival.
"Is he the same guy as before he got wounded? No, he's not. For a guy getting shot in the head, he's as good as he can be. He's amazingly boosted, responsive," said Maddi, who attended Thursday's ceremony. "He should not be alive."
Miller characterized seeing at the damage the bullet did as "harrowing" and "surreal."
Maddie said incidents like this one have helped the Army improve technology on helmets, which now are graded to stop bullets like the one only slowed by Craig's lid.
"I didn't know where I was, who I was, what had happened. I thought I was in Pakistan," Craig said.
"He's pretty much an inspiration to everybody he meets. He has a warm spirit about him. When you see him he kind of brings a little bit of peace to you," Miller said.
Craig said he served with "a great group of guys," but asked if he'd have done it over again, he said his path would have been at least somewhat different.
"No," he said. "If I knew what I know now, I would have picked a different MOS."
Craig was a carpenter in Portland, Oregon, until construction work started to dry up in 2008 and he enlisted. The military runs deep in his family. His mother said he became the fifth generation to serve. His father had been in the National Guard and his brother Steven is in the Navy, she said.
Craig, who officially retired in 2013, said he's not sure what he wants to do next with his life. His mother said she knows one thing he will do: continue to inspire others. And as hard as the road has been and will continue to be, she's just glad he's home, alive.
"He's just remarkable, he has that fight and that spirit in him that won't let him give up. That's a part of him, but it's also part of being a soldier," Miller said.
"He's home, so that's the biggest positive."