A car restored by Fort Carson soldiers transitioning out of active duty was gifted this month to the widow of a soldier who was killed in Iraq in 2007.

"I'm so excited and so happy to be receiving this, and it's a little emotional, under the circumstances," said Tracy Ruoff, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Michael Ruoff, was killed when his patrol was ambushed by insurgents outside Ramadi, where he was serving with a brigade from the 1st Infantry Division.

Michael Ruoff was born in Ukiah, Calif., but fell in love with Colorado while assigned to Fort Carson with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. He joined the Army in 1994, when he was 18.

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The soldiers who worked on Tracy Ruoff's 2016 Dodge Dart — which was donated by Geico — were participants in Caliber Collision's Changing Lanes, a free 18-week program that provides training and employment in the collision and auto body industry for soldiers nearing completion of their military service.

The car was presented to Ruoff immediately after a Sept. 20 graduation ceremony for 11 Fort Carson soldiers who had completed the program. There ceremony was at Caliber Academy, 10706 Maltese Point.

The fact that Fort Carson soldiers restored the car was "the most wonderful piece of news — that this program exists, that these are the soldiers that worked on it," she said.

She added, laughing: "I feel like when you love what you do, that good energy is in that car, you know?"

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Having reliable transportation will be "huge, life-changing," said Ruoff, who now lives in Colorado Springs. She has three children, ages 10, 18 and 23. The youngest two have high-functioning autism.

The car will allow her to get her kids to and from therapy.

"With autism, kids don't really like surprises, and when you don't have a vehicle that is reliable, it can be a surprise, so I think their anxiety also will decrease," she said.

She's also undergoing a job search, so having a reliable car "widens the circle of opportunity for me," she said. "And we might get to make some trips to visit some family because we have a vehicle that will make it."

For the past six years, Caliber Collision and its industry partners have donated nearly 350 vehicles to military service members, veterans and others in need of reliable transportation, the release says. Caliber Collision has more than 1,100 locations across 37 states.

Ellie is a general assignment reporter. She's a proud Midwesterner, stationery hoarder and Earl Grey tea enthusiast. After interning at The Gazette in 2015, she joined the newspaper's staff in 2016.

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