Saturday, June 30, 2012

4th of July

Earlier this week our local paper wrote an article about Dean and how some veterans cannot handle the 4th of July fireworks. If they only happened on 4th of July he could prepare for that, he'd know they are coming, but since neighbors usually light them off for a week beforehand and a few days afterwards he gets barraged by fear for about 10 days. I don't know how this year will be, but last year was heartbreaking to watch!

I used an analogy to describe to a friend what it was like for Dean last year. I don't assume it's like this for every veteran.

  • If you were stripped from your clothing (because then you'd be vulnerable) and then sent through a house you'd never been in blindfolded (because then you'd be surprised) and were hit with 2x4's by random people in all directions (because every explosion is like being hit). You didn't know how many times you'd be hit and between each blow you tried your hardest to just gain some composure but they keep coming and you only wish it would stop.
We will see how this year goes. He has learned a few skills and maybe they will be enough to help him not be debilitated. 

For some veterans, nation’s birthday fireworks bring back war traumas

Submitted photo
Dean Harris of Molalla is pictured here while serving in Afghanistan with the Oregon National Guard’s 162nd Engineer Company in 2010. Harris was hit by IEDs three times during his tour of duty and suffered multiple injuries. Each 4th of July season, the sounds of exploding fireworks flash him back to the war.
Fireworks signify celebration and freedom for many Americans, but for some veterans the sounds of explosions trigger trauma, forcing them to relive scenes from war.

Karen Harris, the wife of a Molalla veteran injured in Afghanistan while serving with the Oregon National Guard, is making a plea to community members to keep their fireworks celebrations to July 4 when celebrating America’s birthday this year.

She plans to distribute fliers to her neighbors and hopes others in the community will also keep veterans in mind.

“I think it reminds him of firefights and explosions and it makes him feel in danger,” she said of her husband, Dean Harris. “For a week he’s at war in our house. It’s horrible. Every day that it keeps going it’s just more and more debilitating.”

She said her husband would never ask for the favor himself, but she hates to see him suffer again. If the fireworks were used on just one day, she said, he’d be better able to mentally prepare, rather than being surprised by random explosions for more than a week’s time, like last year.

“It makes him not be able to think or talk,” she said. “I’m so dreading it.”

Dean Harris, 45, was hit by IEDs three times in the span of two days, causing brain injuries, his wife said. He now experiences post traumatic stress disorder as well.

A truck driver for 20 years, he joined the Oregon National Guard at age 41, serving with the 162nd Engineer Company. He was deployed in November of 2009 and hit by IEDs in March and April of 2010. He also suffered a broken back and broken elbow before finally returning home in August of 2010.

“It really changed our whole future,” Karen said. “And you know what? He’d do it again. And he wished he didn’t have to leave early.”

Dean said he doesn’t regret joining the National Guard and is quick to point out that some have sacrificed more than he did.

"I love my country and in my heart I knew it was the right thing to do,” he said in an email. “It just happened to be the hard thing to do.”

Dean said he loves the 4th of July and he’ll prepare himself to deal with the fireworks that day, but the loud noises before the holiday are “not really a great thing.”

"I react instinctively,” he said. “I don't have time to think about it. It puts my body into fight mode and I get ready for an ambush.”

Ryan McNabb, readjustment counseling specialist at the Portland Vet Center, said there are many veterans troubled by fireworks.

“The Fourth of July is one of our favorite holidays, but at the same time, it’s a holiday that we don’t like to participate in because of the fireworks,” McNabb said.

Even when prepared for fireworks, he said the sounds can easily overwhelm the senses.

“It’s something that’s learned that really can’t be unlearned,” McNabb said. “When you’re 2 years old, you touch a fire, you understand that it’s hot and you don’t touch it again. Same with our startle response. You hear a loud noise and first instinct is to protect yourself. Your startled response is very tense at those times.”

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