As the boom of fireworks echoes through his neighborhood, Lee Pisarek often finds himself reaching for his beard.
He couldn’t grow facial hair back when he was fighting in Operation Desert Storm because it interfered with his gas mask. So Pisarek, who was injured while serving in the Army in 1992, knows that if his beard is there, he’s not back in combat.
For veterans such as Pisarek who have post-traumatic stress disorder, the Fourth of July can be a difficult holiday. Loud fireworks and flashing explosions can trigger memories of life-threatening situations that caused severe trauma, and it can be hard to keep instinctual reactions in check.
“People launch these firework mortars — which literally are mortars — and they end up bursting right over my roof at times,” Pisarek said. “It takes everything from personal initiative to my family’s support to keep me from going out there and neutralizing the threat.”
Pisarek uses his beard as part of his strategy to stay calm and focused while his neighbors celebrate with personal fireworks. He also surrounds himself with family and friends, and constantly reminds himself that he’s not in the middle of a war zone .