Doug Espinosa, a staff Sergeant E6 in the Army, fought in Iraq during three different U.S. tours, but you won’t find him celebrating Independence Day at the Battleship watching the fireworks like droves of other Mobilians.
“I stick to myself most of the time. So, I stay inside. Those who are close to me, the ones I do talk to, I let them know, ‘ hey can you please take it easy around here?’ It just triggers a few things,” Espinosa explained.
Espinosa is like many other combat veterans coping with PTSD that can be triggered by the arsenal of sparklers, firecrackers, rockets, and unexpected blasts of cherry bombs.
His first tour in Iraq was near the beginning of the war after the 9/11 terror attacks. When he returned in 2007, he partook in the presidential surge to provide safe neighborhoods in Baghdad.
During his final trip, he shut down Camp Ramadi in Iraq to turn it back over to the Iraqi civilians as the United States began pulling out their troops.
“I got to see the beginning, the middle –the worst part of it—and the end.”
But, the end oversees was only the beginning of a slew of other challenges Espinosa faced when he returned home and tried to adapt to civilian life again.
It’s been four years now, and Espinosa said he has found mechanisms of coping with the militaristic sounding shots of fireworks springing into the sky on the 4th of July. But, only when he’s expecting them.
“When you don’t expect it, it brings triggers. It brings you back to a place where you really don’t want to be. Thanks to a great support system, I’m learning to adjust finally,” Espinosa said about his fiance who he calls his “rock.”
Every summer, Espinosa puts a sign in his window that reads, “Combat veteran lives here, please be courteous with fireworks,” serving as a silent reminder of war’s lasting effect. Espinosa said he doesn’t want to intrude on others’ fun, so the sign helps do the talking.
“In no way, shape, or form do I ask people to stop because it’s the 4th of July,” Espinosa said. “I mainly have it [the sign] to put out awareness so neighbors can see and think ‘hey maybe we do need to be a little more cognizant towards the veterans around the area.”
He said there are several other combat veterans in Mobile and along the coast who will spend the 4th of July tucked away inside. “There are a lot of others who can’t cope with it as well as I can anymore.”
So, he asks you to think of them and everyone else who’s served when you celebrate the holiday, and be mindful
“Of course, I want everyone to have their fun, but besides that, I would like for them [the public] to take a minute out and remember everyone who went over and served our country, not just Iraq and Afghanistan, but all the way back to our forefathers.”