CHARLOTTE, NC - Fireworks are a major part of fourth of July festivities, but the loud blasts and bright explosions can be extremely distressing for veterans living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“It's a physical reaction second with the mental thought first,” said Master Sargent Michael McKenzie Sr., a retired Army Ranger who now serves as the NC chapter director of the PTSD Foundation of America.
“Your brain says I've been here before,” he explained. “The body says I've been there and says I have to do something now to protect myself.”
MSG Mckenzie has over 22 years of active duty service, including several deployments.
And like so many other combat veterans, he says he came home with a mind fogged by war.
“I cry, some veterans cry, other veterans get aggressive,” he explained. “War can hurt.”
PTSD is a beast triggered by many things.
To some veterans, the explosions made to celebrate the United States may sound like gunfire, threatening to forever keep them from it.
“He or she has to take a pause and realize we’re not in Afghanistan anymore. We're at home,” McKenzie said. “In Charlotte, Gastonia, wherever you may be, just take a pause and just breathe.”
McKenzie has dedicated his life now to working with other veterans.
He also raises awareness about the little things, like not shooting fireworks off on random days and times as a courtesy to veterans who may be living with Post Traumatic Stress.
He says his mission doesn’t end this Independence Day.
“This goes way beyond acknowledging PTSD on Fourth of July,” he said. “It’s bringing awareness to the community that just doesn't know. The mind sometimes tells us were no longer relevant.”
And with a US veteran suicide rate of approximately 22 a day, he says the best thing to teach is love.
“One veteran, one life, one soldier at a time,” he said.
"Because that's what saved me, that's what saved my life when I was on my deathbed. Love.”
To learn more about the Charlotte Chapter of the PTSD Foundation of America, click here.
MSG Mckenzie also encourages veterans to reach out to him via email, at Michael.McKenzie@ptsdUSA.org