Mar 25, 2014 11:18 PM by Maddie Garrett
The Afghan War is winding down, but the battle isn't won for many service men and women returning home with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Rejoining their communities here in Southern Colorado isn't easy, and local police are seeing more calls concerning current or former military.
To help these soldiers, airmen and veterans, police and the military are doing something unprecedented. They've formed a new partnership and started new training to help service members returning home who might be struggling with PTSD and re-entering civilian life.
"I was 20 years Army infantry, the last tour in Iraq was 2005, coming home in 2005," said retired Army Sergeant Ronie Huddleston.
Huddleston came home with more than just injuries from getting hit with an improvised explosive device during deployment.
"I knew who Sergeant Huddleston was, I was very happy with him, I loved who that guy was. But I didn't know who Ronie was, so the identity crisis hit really hard," he said.
It impacted his family as well.
"For them it was extremely hard to now realize the guy that now has the short temper, the guy that yells a lot, that's never happy, that's angry at anything and everything, the guy that walks around confused," explained Huddleston.
Ronie is one of many soldiers suffering from PTSD. As he sees more military members returning from deployment and getting out of the service, he worries more people will experience post traumatic stress trying to re-enter civilian life.
"Just because war is over, doesn't mean our internal war is over, as a matter of fact it's about to get worse," said Huddleston.
Police are seeing this trend too.
"We're seeing an increase in dealing with our soldier population, and these are individuals who have been through extreme difficulty in the last 10 years," said Fountain Police Chief Todd Evans.
Evans isn't alone, several other departments, including Colorado Springs Police, said they notice it too.
One incident sticks out in Evans' mind from last fall, when some of his officers were involved in a shooting with a soldier.
"He was going, according to witnesses, a hundred miles an hour firing shots outside his window, before he ended up in his sergeant's front yard," recalled Evans.
Evans is talking about 25-year-old Jonathan Clark. He was a decorated soldier who did three tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. He had recently returned home and friends said he was suffering from PTSD.
It was on Veteran's Day that police reported he was threatening to kill himself and then pointed a gun at officers, who then opened fire on Clark. But autopsy results show it was Clark's own bullet through his chest that took his life that night.
"We hate to see someone who's in that much despair, we'd rather help them," said Evans. "It ended sadly."
But that call is one of many said Evans.
"So we're seeing out on the streets that these individuals are running into the same problems that you and I would, but they're dealing with the effects of having been at war and then having to try to come home and reconnect with their families," said Huddleston.
Self medication, such as alcohol and often prescription drugs, make matters worse.
"The self medication doesn't take care of the post traumatic stress, it just helps numb the feelings," said PTSD counselor Stephanie Brown.
But with the help of Fort Carson and the Air Force, police departments are getting new training and a new relationship with the military to diffuse situations, in ohpes of having a better outcome than like the officer involved shooting in Fountain.
"They've come out and proactively dealt with both active duty and retired and we've been able to come to solutions because of their help because we wouldn't have been able to do if they hadn't have done that," Evans said.
Brown applauds this partnership, and said the chain of command can be crucial in a crisis situation; it can bring a soldier back from the brink and out of those memories of war.
"For that moment they are back in Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever it is they had their experiences," explained Brown.
Evans said they don't always know when they might be interacting with military members, and sometimes they won't know until after the situation is over. But when they have that information, it helps to be able to make that call directly to the chain of command.
"I have no doubt that our relationship with the military and with Fort Carson and with the individuals that are in place that we can call and request for help, I have no doubt that that has helped save lives," added Evans.
Diffusing those situations could mean a second chance.
"There's hope and there's help, with treatment we can process through these memories," said Brown.
That's what Huddleston did. He said it saved his life and his family.
"I feel more in control in my own life, I feel happier in my own skin and my own mind. There's no comparison for me before and after," he said.
Police departments are meeting monthly with local military leaders in class settings for special training and to build those relationships.
If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD, they can contact the PTSD Trauma Treatment Center at www.OperationNewNormal.com