Blood And Sacrifice: The Battle Of A Soldier’s Soul
Ryan Hulon’s Story
Ryan Hulon learned the hard way: Freedom isn’t free.
A paratrooper in the second unit of the 505th Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, Ryan escaped death and physical injury only by the grace of God during perilous combat missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.
But war cost the lives of 28 of his U.S. Army brothers — and counting.
It cost a piece of himself. And it cost his family.
“I came home, but I left a part of me over there," Ryan says. "One of my friends told me that a few years of service will give you a lifetime of demons. But I’ll never regret it. I had a duty to my country to protect it. I had a duty to my brothers to take a bullet for them if I had to."
The Loss of Innocence
When he enlisted at 19, Ryan saw only the honor of serving his country and the thrill of jumping out of planes. But that innocence didn’t last long, especially in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Ryan and his then-fiancee, Jessica, felt the consequences immediately, even if they were only dimly aware of what lay ahead.
The couple had to scrap their wedding and honeymoon plans for the end of that month, and they rushed to tie the knot at a courthouse not far from the army base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They were newlyweds barely a week before Ryan was deployed to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
When you are an infantry solider, you see casualties of war. Innocent people die, and there’s nothing you can do about it
What followed was months at a time of separation, with only the occasional letter, care package and phone call to stay connected. Ryan wasn’t there to support his wife during Jessica’s pregnancy with their first child, Skye, and he missed almost all of his daughter's first year.
“I’m sad about the time I lost with my family,” Ryan says. "There was so much time I was gone in the first few years of our marriage. I feel like the first few years it was more about me being in the military than a husband or a father."
Tough as they were, those losses paled by comparison to the emotional horrors Ryan had witnessed.
During his first mission in Kosovo, in former Yugoslavia, he saw children killed and maimed by landmines and homes with families still in them burned by Serbian forces. In Iraq, terrorist insurgents would use innocents as human shields.
Together, those traumatic experiences and Ryan’s own brushes with death drove him to question why he was still alive while so many others had died — including his own brothers in arms who were closer than family.
The only way I’ve experienced any healing is Jesus ... Jesus was the only person who could calm me. He’s the one who set me free of all my issues.
While still in Iraq, his conversations with a U.S. Army chaplain led Ryan to ask Jesus into his life and be baptized in Iraq’s Tigris River.
"When you are an infantry solider, you see casualties of war. Innocent people die, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Ryan says.
The War At Home
On his return home from active duty in 2004, the Hulons marriage was troubled for years as Ryan battled depression and suicidal thoughts and Jessica struggled to understand why he couldn’t just snap out of it.
By night, Ryan was terrorized by nightmares. By day, Ryan was gripped by the need to stay battle-ready at all times.
"I didn’t want her to see my weakness,” Ryan says. "I wanted to show her that I was strong."
As the emotional distance widened between them, Jessica questioned whether their marriage could survive.
"I had pretty much put up a wall,” Jessica says. “I was not understanding him and not even trying. It got to that point."
Jesus has set my heart on fire to help these guys who don’t know who to turn to, who don’t know how to get the help they need
It was amid those struggles that the Hulons were invited to NewSpring Church in 2006.
That’s where Ryan learned to surrender his guilt, receive forgiveness, and fully trust Jesus for strength and peace through the emotional battle he had to wage with his memories.
And that’s where Jessica began a relationship with Jesus that enabled her to support Ryan with the love, grace and understanding only God could provide.
A Heart For Veterans
The Hulons know the high price paid by veterans and their families to protect this nation and preserve our freedoms, but they’ve also come to learn what it means for Jesus to have paid the ultimate sacrifice and won the greatest freedom of all.
"The only way I’ve experienced any healing is Jesus,” Ryan says. "Jesus was the only person who could calm me. He’s the one who set me free of all my issues."
Now 36, Ryan is dedicated to helping other veterans and their families find help, hope and healing in Jesus, too.
As part of an informal suicide support network, it’s a day-to-day reality for Ryan to find himself talking down a veteran threatening to take his own life. Prescription drugs and counseling alone cannot cure the despair that is leading veterans to suicide at the rate of 22 a day, he says.
"Jesus is the only cure when you’re staring down the barrel of that gun and there’s nobody else around,” Ryan says.
In addition to volunteering with Upstate Warrior Solution, a local effort modeled on the Wounded Warrior Project, he also leads a NewSpring Group specifically for veterans.
“Jesus has set my heart on fire to help these guys who don’t know who to turn to, who don’t know how to get the help they need,” Ryan says. "The only answer is Jesus."
Watch the video to experience their full story.