|From The New Era sweethomenews.com
Family blames Sam Huxford’s death on results of trauma from the battlefield
April 27, 2011
By Sean C. Morgan
Of The New Era
Not all of those who die in a war die on the battlefield.
Sometimes, they come home alive, but the demons that haunt them finish the enemy’s work.
That’s what happened to Samuel Edward Huxford, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who died as the result of a car crash on 43rd Avenue on April 14, according to his family. He died on April 17. He would have been 23 on April 19.
Thursday, one week after the crash, his family told of the horrific battles he fought while serving in the mountains along the border with Pakistan, the toll it took on him and the lack of support from the U.S. military and government after he returned home, culminating in the behavior that led up to the crash.
Huxford was injured three times in combat while serving from 2007 to 2008 in Afghanistan with the 172nd Airborne. He was a first-response medic, a pathfinder and a .50-caliber machine gunner.
Telling his story were his sisters, Leesha Carson, 31, and Sarah Fairchild, 29, of Sweet Home, along with his mother, Geneva, who requested that her last name be withheld for security purposes related to a previous abusive relationship.
Huxford was born in Albany and then moved around, living in Portland, Stayton, Sweet Home, La Pine and Springfield. He attended the fourth through sixth grade in Sweet Home, wrestling with the junior high team and playing football. He also took up bull riding at the Santana ranch and then competitively.
He moved to La Pine with his family, entering the high school ROTC program there. He graduated a year early at the Gateway Learning Center in Springfield so he could enlist in the Army.
While waiting to ship out, he volunteered for almost a year helping his mother care for seniors and disabled young adults.
He scored high enough on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Test that he was asked to be an officer. He rejected the idea, intending first to serve and learn with the men he might later lead as an officer, his family said.
After serving in Afghanistan, “he came back and you could already tell he was very tortured inside,” Geneva said. He was designated 100 percent disabled with a traumatic brain injury, and he had suffered 70 percent hearing loss.
Beyond the physical damage, Huxford was suffering from nightmares, night terrors and survivor’s guilt.
He had been in terrifying battles. The family recounted several stories about them. Among them, Huxford made eye contact with a female helicopter pilot, who was attempting to evacuate him and his unit, just as her helicopter exploded in midair. He was among nine out of 27 U.S. soldiers to survive an all-night battle at an abandoned ranch house in the mountains.
It was sometimes so difficult getting supplies air-dropped that Huxford and his comrades had to eat puppies, monkeys, scorpions and rats. He entered at 195 pounds and came home weighing 145 pounds.
While recovering from his third injury, Huxford was discharged after an off-duty lieutenant insulted him, claiming that Huxford had left his boys behind. He beat the lieutenant, although both were wearing civilian clothes at the time, and he didn’t know the man was an officer.
He moved back to Sweet Home a little more than two years ago, married and later divorced his junior high school girlfriend, Amanda Imholt. They had a daughter, Hazell Lynn, 14 months.
He had moved back to Sweet Home because he wanted to be around his sisters, nieces and nephews.
He carried a picture of his nieces and nephews, Olivia, Chloe, Triston and Sevin, Geneva said. With his youngest niece,
Jocelyn, he traded leave so he could be home in time for her birth.
His nieces and nephews, especially seeing them in the the photo, are what kept him going.
“He would endure that to be with his family,” Geneva said.
He told Carson, “The babies are what got me through it.”
But he wasn’t able to get through it at home.
Mike Stone, Geneva’s former boyfriend and Vietnam veteran, spent time with Huxford, attempting to guide him and help him. Stone designed a widely distributed T-shirt in Huxford’s honor to benefit soldiers. It carries the words from a tattoo Huxford wore, “All gave some. Some gave all.”
Huxford eventually sought help from the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Roseburg, Fairchild said. He was prepared to head for Roseburg in October, but the hospital had no room for him.
“I honestly believe if Samuels would’ve gotten in there, he’d be here now,” Fairchild said.
“He even tried re-enlisting because that was the only place he belonged,” Geneva said.
“He told me once that he just didn’t feel like he fit anymore,” Carson said. “He’d wake up, reaching for his gun, and of course there wasn’t one. He had extreme post-traumatic stress disorder, and he was trying to drown the pain.”
That led to Huxford’s drinking and ultimately to the crash, the family said.
They called him a war casualty out of combat.
No one told him how to cope with what he had been through, Fairchild said. He didn’t know what to do.
The family wants to see the government do more for veterans so this doesn’t happen to more soldiers and families.
“They’ve got to do something for the kids coming back,” Geneva said. “It’s not right. It’s not right. He saw too many of his friends die. He held one of his best friends until he died.”
When injured, he was told he could call home when he could get up and get to the phone himself, Geneva said. He came home in boots still bloody from the death of his best friend.
He wanted to take his own life, Geneva said, but his family basically talked him out of it.
“He still loved life, but he couldn’t live in his own skin,” Carson said.
“I hope if anything comes out of this, people will band together and say no more of this,” Fairchild said. “Let’s get some people, put up buildings, hire staff.”
Huxford had no one to talk to, with the exception of Stone, no one who could relate, so he kept it in, she said.
Vietnam veterans, among other veterans groups, are opening themselves up to the younger veterans. The area chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America has three veterans of Iraq as associate members; and its members stress the importance of signing up with the VA every time they meet a veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan, said member Ric Olsen.
“The rate of suicide is on a larger scale than it was for Vietnam,” Olsen said. “Vietnam was very high also. We’re still losing guys.”
Soldiers weren’t trained or prepared mentally for what they would face on the battlefield.
In the case of Vietnam, they came home to a hostile country as well.
Veterans today are more aware of post-traumatic stress syndrome, Olsen said, and the nation is friendlier.
Still, the suicide rate is higher, he said. “I don’t know why. I’m not one of them. I know they’re going through some of the same things Vietnam veterans went through.”
Veterans groups are encouraging the young vets to sign up with the VA, get counseling and seek help when they need it.
“There are programs available to help them, and it’s nothing shameful to ask for help,” Olsen said.
Resources are sometimes limited though, he said. Roseburg is a small program that is underfunded, something that should be changed.
Olsen said he met Huxford a couple of times and described him as a “nice kid.”
Huxford was a giving person, from childhood through death, his mother said. He was all boy and definitely a handful when he was a child, to be sure, but he was always helping.
“Our friend Bob put it best: ‘He was always the little brother that you never want around, but when he was around, he always made you smile,’” Fairchild said.
Geneva recalled walking back to her car with him, when he was about age 14, in a Wal-Mart parking lot. He disappeared. When she found him, he was helping a woman who was having trouble buckling her baby into a car seat.
In death, he was a donor. Kept alive by life support until transplant recipients could be prepped, he donated his kidneys, liver, corneas and other tissues, relieving other families of their worries, Geneva said. “He wanted to help people, even afterward.”
“He was always helpful to everybody but himself,” Fairchild said. “It was bred into him I think – he wanted to be a GI Joe.”
During Desert Storm, Carson and Huxford were in the third and fifth grades, she said. They would talk about the war, and he developed a good impression of the honor and good things a soldier could do for people.
His favorite shows were documentaries, especially World War II, on the Discovery and History channels and Oregon Public Broadcasting, Geneva said. When he learned about the Titanic and told his family about it around the dinner table, “He said something to the effect of, ‘I could’ve saved them.’”
The family wanted to add that while speed and alcohol were factors in the crash, there was more to it – his inexperience as a driver. He didn’t drive until he returned from his military service.
He hit the edge of the pavement and overcorrected, Genevea said. “Yeah, he had been drinking. He was young and inexperienced.”
Huxford’s girlfriend, Jessica Magee, 19, was in the car, along with Courtney Dawn Allen, 21. The family credited Magee with keeping Huxford alive until paramedics arrived, allowing Huxford to donate his organs and help others in death. Magee took off her shirt and kept it around Huxford’s head and kept his airways open.
She has been involved with the family since the crash.
She was there with the family when he died at 3:21 p.m. on April 17 at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland. When life support was removed, he lived another 13 minutes, Geneva said. That’s the number of people who were with him when he died. The time, 3-2-1, is what the soldiers say right before they jump out of an airplane.
“He said goodbye to all of us, and he jumped,” Geneva said. Huxford’s names mean “sent from God” and “the warrior.
“He’s a tired warrior, but he’s gone home,” Geneva said.
The family shared a comment from Huxford’s Facebook page, written by one of Huxford’s comrades: “Hux, man what a guy. You always knew he would have your back, knew that he cared about each and every one of us. He was a comrade, a friend and more importantly, a brother. I miss you, brother, as I miss all our brothers. Go now and join them. They are waiting for us all to join them when our time is ready. I love you, Hux. You were always there when I needed you and even when I didn’t need you. Rest in peace, brother, and tell the others I said, hey, and see them soon.”
The family is planning a private funeral service.