It’s the Fourth of July, so I’m sure that you guys have other plans than to sit here and read what I have to say, so I plan on keeping this pretty short. The Fourth of July is a special day to alot of people, but it hasn’t been all that special for me in quite sometime. I would have to say the holiday lost its allure when I was 17 or so, when the reality of the world set in and what had once been a fun holiday that the entire family had enjoyed became a nightmare. Truthfully, my family hasn’t celebrated the fourth like we used to in so many years, though I still have fond memories of going to the lake, BBQing and firing off fireworks, those memories seem now like fleeting images of someone else’s life. I can remember them, but it is hard to believe that I lived them.
Why did it all change? That requires some explaining. In 1991, my father was a participant in Operation Desert Storm and was among the soldiers pulled to provide aid to the Kurdish refugees that had fled Kurdistan into Turkey. He always carried with him the things he saw there, though this is really just the catalyst that lead to the real issue. Fast forward a decade or so and my father is out of the military and the United States was just attacked by al-Qaeda. A few years later and the United States had invaded Iraq and Saddam was quickly deposed and the country occupied.
I cannot even remember the exact conversation that was had, I was young and I didn’t pay nearly enough attention — one day we moved out of our apartment and into my mother’s house, a little while later and my father was gone. In his civilian career he worked in construction which provided him with a set of skills which were in high demand. He figured that with his experience in the Army he would be alright, and he didn’t want to sit idle when he could still be of use. More than anything, he told me that he wanted to help rebuild the country. He told us the story about the Kurds and what they had suffered under Saddam, and about the general state of Iraq. I’m not sure I was ever included in any serious discussion beyond him informing me that he had gotten a job working in Iraq. He was a civilian contractor for KBR. Say what you want about them, but the work my father did for them ultimately provided running water to places in Iraq which had none. It was apart of the bid to rebuild the country, to make amends for the fact that we had just freedom’d all over their faces with bombs.
The infrastructure was shit and Saddam had cut off water to alot of places in the country from what I was told. They were also responsible for providing the plumbing for the bases which the American’s were erecting. He was in Iraq from 2004 to 2005, and then he volunteered again to go to Afghanistan in 2006. His stay in Afghanistan was cut short because he got a really bad infection and he ended up being sent home for medical reasons.
2007 was the first time he was actually in the country for the Fourth of July since 2003. We had no idea what was going to happen, but my mother wanted to celebrate. We all loaded up into our cars and went out to the lake. My father never really talked about what he had seen and what had happened in Iraq and Afghanistan before that day, it was the day that changed everything for us, really. Likewise, we never knew that he had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder until that day. The combination of the fireworks and children screaming resulted in him breaking down entirely. I had never really seen my father cry before, and that day the strongest man I had ever known was curled in the fetal position in the back of the car bawling and shaking uncontrollably. It wasn’t until we were far away from the Lake that he calmed down enough to tell us what had happened.
He informed us that one year in Iraq he was in a convoy out of Baghdad during one of the Islamic holidays when a suicide bomber struck. The bomber ended up killing a bunch of civilians, including a bunch of children, which was the source of the panic he experienced. Celebrating the Fourth of July ever since that has been something of an experiment. He has good days and he has bad days. One year he even purchased fireworks and set them off, but he had to leave and go back inside after awhile. The combination of certain words and the sound of the fireworks triggers memories and puts him on edge. Sometimes just the sounds of the constant explosions and projectiles being fired into the air by other people is enough to set him off. We don’t really do fireworks anymore and we typically stay inside on the fourth. I’m not disappointed or ashamed of this; he sacrificed more than he had to, for a country that was not his own, to try and better the lives of people that were not his own. He may not have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan, but that does not subtract from the service he gave or from the wounds he suffered. There are few people that would volunteer to go to a warzone without a gun.
So while you celebrate The Four of July, please take a moment of silence to remember those that have sacrificed for this country — to remember that somewhere out there tonight, there are veterans of all types suffering in silence as the sound of fireworks brings back memories of the time they spend abroad. Honor the sacrifice they have made, be safe, be smart, and be courtesy. I’m not saying that you should not have fun, just to take a moment of your day to remember those current serving overseas, those that did not survive, and those that did. If you know anybody who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, be with them tonight — even if they do not show signs of it, they could be suffering in silence. The Fourth of July is a hard day for alot of people I know, because so many people have friends and family who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan now, and even as I write this my own step-father is currently deployed in Afghanistan.
“From the bitter cold winter at Valley Forge, to the mountains of Afghanistan and the deserts of Iraq, our soldiers have courageously answered when called, gone where ordered, and defended our nation with honor.” – Solomon ortiz