When 17 year old Ronie Huddleston dropped out of high school to follow the family path of military training, he didn’t know that he would be retiring 20 years later after an army accident resulted in a traumatic brain injury and devastating injuries to his hand, shoulder and leg.
Huddleston, now 42, had a homecoming from active service marked by struggles returning soldiers often face; depression, marital strife, and identity crises. “I was extremely confused. I knew who Sergeant Huddleston was, but I had no idea who Ronie was,” Huddleston said.
The Huddleston family of Colorado Springs, Ronie’s wife Elizabeth, son Allan, and daughter Patricia, did its best to cope with realization that the husband and father who left was not the man who came back.
“I was very quick tempered and not at all the happy-go-lucky person that I used to be,” Huddleston said.
Huddleston and his family worked with Operation Traumatic Brain Injury Freedom while recovering, as well as attending marriage counseling and retreats. However, Huddleston still needed help bringing his family back together.
It was then the Brain Injury Freedom program put Huddleston in contact with Project Sanctuary, a program that provides support for active and retired military personnel through family retreats.
Though this program was an experience his family needed, Huddleston was initially reluctant. “I think a lot of soldiers have a hard time asking for help. I was lucky to have a strong wife who basically told me we were going,” Huddleston said.
The Huddleston family attended Project Sanctuary at Snow Mountain Ranch last March, where they participated in marriage and financial classes, snowshoeing, crafts, a cooking class and more. “It allowed our whole family to just have fun together and break down barriers. Watching my wife laughing again, I mean just really laughing, was incredible,” Huddleston said. After their time at Project Sanctuary, the Huddleston family looked forward to a fresh start. “The tension was gone, and as a family we were able to focus on each other again. My changed mentality has allowed our family to move forward,” he said.
While Project Sanctuary continued to reunite his family, it also gave Huddleston direction for his future. Huddleston and his wife returned to Project Sanctuary as volunteers where they assisted family activities. “It was phenomenal to sit back and watch it change lives knowing that we had experienced a lot of the stuff that these families were going through,” Huddleston said.
The impact of Project Sanctuary led Huddleston to return to school and pursue a degree in social work, with hopes of working with veteran families in the future. “The veteran families are too often left behind,” he said. “The key to successful veteran recovery is all in the family.”