Sunday, April 17, 2011
When it was clear he would not be returning to active duty after being shot while out on patrol in Afghanistan, Marine and Callaway native Tyler Huffman knew exactly where he wanted to be: Home.
“I originally grew up in Millersburg my whole life, I went to Fulton High School; it’s where all my family and friends are,” Huffman said of the decision to move to Fulton to stay with his father as he makes the transition from Marine to civilian life after the shooting that left him paralyzed. “I know so many people here — I know at the drop of a hat I could have a house full of people.
“I have so many people wanting to help me. I have so much support and so many family and friends ... that’s where I want to be.”
The 23-year-old has spent the past 3 1/2 years as a Marine, and had been deployed to Afghanistan at the beginning of October — his first time in a combat zone.
“(Our job) was pretty much looking for IEDs and clearing them out (and) clearing Taliban out of the area,” Huffman said. “On a typical day we would get up in the morning, get our gear ready, plan a mission and go out and do it.”
December 3, 2010, started off following the same routine, although it now is a day he will never forget.
“We were patrolling from building to building, going inside the buildings (to clear them), trying to get to our objective,” Huffman said, noting the second building was at the top of a hill. “When we walked to the top of the hill, I could see everything. My first instinct was ‘This is not a good spot,’ because we’re standing in the open and there were so many holes in the wall you couldn’t watch them all.”
He said he happened to have his head down when he got shot in the right side of his chest.
“It took me right off my feet. I saw my legs kind of flop, and I knew right away something was wrong because I couldn’t move my feet,” Huffman said. “I can remember thinking, ‘Wow. What happened — did I get shot?’ When I looked down, I looked fine — my legs were intact — and that’s when I knew I got shot, I wasn’t hit by an IED.”
With two children in the military — Tyler’s older sister, Sara Treftz is in the Navy — and having spent 10 years in the Army himself, Tyler’s father, Dale Huffman, said he had tried to prepare himself for the phone call he received shortly after the incident occurred.
“They don’t call you unless it’s serious to begin with,” Dale Huffman said. “I was actually relieved when they said he was shot — they were pretty quick to make (the situation) clear, there was no wondering (if he was dead).”
Tyler Huffman was flown to a medical hospital in Germany where he stayed for a week before being transferred to Bethesda Naval Hospital for 15 days, finally ending up in Richmond, Va. for two months.
Tyler finally made it home to Fulton with his wife Mellisa and their 1 1/2-year-old son, Matthew, late on the night of March 5 to a large welcoming committee — his return caravan was escorted through the streets of Fulton by the police and fire departments, while a number of local residents stood by waving and holding flags while an even larger group waited for his arrival outside his father’s home.
“I was definitely surprised — I was not expecting that,” Huffman said. “A whole bunch of people I did not know showed up. It shows me even more why I want to be back here — that kind of support from people that don’t even know you, but want to support you.”
The shooting left Huffman unable to move his legs, although the nerve damage still results in almost constant pain.
“The only frustrating thing for me (with the recovery) has been the pain, the nerve pain in my left leg,” he said. “They don’t know whether it might eventually go away, or it might not. Eventually I’m going to get used to it and learn to ignore it.”
Although he could have remained in the Marines, Huffman — who is waiting for his medical discharge to be finalized — said he could not imagine not being active.
“I love being outside, I love working with my hands. I can’t sit behind a desk and push papers,” he said.
With his support network of family friends and neighbors firmly in place — including younger brother Shelby and aunt, Dionna Huffman, a physical therapist who has temporarily moved in to help out — Huffman has spent the past month continuing his recovery and making plans for his future.
“I’m waiting for my wife and son to come back from visiting her family, I’m getting my truck done (so he can drive) and then I’m going to buy some land and build a house that meets my needs,” Huffman said. “I’m going to go back to school to become a weapons instructor for the state of Missouri and show (law enforcement officers) new weapons and weapon safety.”
Dale Huffman said he has enjoyed watching his son adjust to his new life.
“It’s been a long several months getting him through all this,” he said. “It’s fun to see him do it with such a positive attitude, it’s pretty neat to see how he accomplished making some of the adjustments.”