In a few short days, fireworks will light up the Tri-State in a celebration of the United States' independence — but for some who served our country and fought to protect that freedom, the day may be a difficult one.
“The Fourth of July is supposed to be about our independence and our freedoms,” said Staff Sgt. Shawn Grueser. “But ever since I served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Fourth of July, for me, is a nightmare.”
Grueser served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, 82nd Airborne Brigade and First and Second Ranger Battalions.
For him, Independence Day can be an emotional trial.
“It’s a scary thing for veterans because that noise—“ the booming noise of fireworks “— brings you right back,” he said.
Right back to Balad, Iraq, the site of 2003’s Operation Peninsula Strike. Grueser, then a paratrooper, narrowly dodged an RPG during the mission, and the experience — bright light followed by a booming explosion and a hail of shrapnel — is one he still carries with him.
“Every time I hear an explosion, (such as) a car backfiring, a firework, I immediately want to hit the ground because in my mind — I mean, it brings you right back,” he said.
Beneath the bullet and shrapnel scars Grueser sustained over his military career lies an invisible injury carried by up to 20 percent of other military veterans: post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Veterans aren’t fragile people,” said Master Sgt. Steve Wilson. “They just have some unique life circumstances.”
Wilson spent his life serving, and today, he works for the Department of Veterans Affairs, helping fellow veterans who grapple with PTSD find resources and help. He’s a particularly good resource himself, having personally dealt with the condition.
“I got some help, and once I was, I realized that it is treatable and you can come through it,” he said.
Wilson encouraged Tri-State residents who plan to celebrate with fireworks to exercise a little consideration for veterans who live nearby.
“Just be considerate that maybe they’ve had some experiences that are unique to them,” he said.