Explosion of Kindness for Veterans and Their Neighbors

June 29, 2015 | By

No July 4 celebration is complete without a colorful and vibrant fireworks display to delight any community, from small town Americana to the big cities. But for many veterans across the country suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, fireworks celebrations can trigger painful memories and exacerbate their symptoms. If anything, combat veterans like Robbie Fullmer of San Francisco are likely to isolate themselves rather than participate in a fireworks display.

“My PTSD has always left me on edge,” says Robbie Fullmer, a 46-year-old Navy veteran from San Francisco who still suffers from PTSD. “The sound of fireworks explosions just increases that tension for me.”

This is why Fullmer has spent his July 4 weekends camping out in the woods, often by himself, instead of celebrating the holiday with friends and neighbors.

“The irony is not lost on me that vets like me cannot celebrate our independence,” says Fullmer.

There are combat veterans just like Fullmer throughout the country who are sensitive to the sounds of fireworks. This is why Shawn Gourley, the co-founder of Military With PTSD, a nonprofit based in Indiana, created the “Explosion of Kindness” campaign that works to help veterans like Fullmer spread awareness about PTSD and, hopefully, strengthen their surrounding communities.

Courteousness Counts

Justin and Jax Gourley

Military With PTSD co-founder Justin Gourley with Jax, his son. (Shawn Gourley)

The signs themselves are straightforward: “Combat Veteran Lives Here Please Be Courteous With Fireworks.”

“We’re trying to get these veterans to feel comfortable enough to be in their neighborhoods during July 4,” says Gourley, whose husband, Justin, is a Navy veteran who suffers from PTSD.

“Courteous” in Gourley’s mind means that people should be mindful of those who may be affected by an endless fireworks celebration on those days that lead up to — and follow — July 4.

“No veteran in the world ever wants to stop a fireworks celebration. It’s a symbol of our freedom,” says Gourley. Instead what the 1,500 veterans who have been donated a sign prefer, is that their neighbors celebrate the holiday with care and they limit their fireworks celebrations to one time and one date.

Involving — Not Isolating — A Combat Veteran

“The signs are not meant to seem standoffish,” says Gourley.

VfP Kinsey Face Front[4]

Navy veteran Robbie Fullmer with Kinsey, his service dog. (Veterans Administration)

“What’s happening is this sign is keeping a combat veteran in his home and speaking with his neighbor,” she adds.

One combat veteran in Ohio who placed a sign in front of his house was surprised to see his neighbor reach out to him.

“When he was outside the neighbor thanked him for his service and told him when they would be setting off the fireworks,” says Gourley. “They added that they wanted to be ‘respectful’ of his issue.”

One of the primary goals of the Explosion of Kindness campaigns is to strengthen ties and “bridge the huge divide between the civilian and military communities,” she adds.

Fullmer lives in the Castro District in San Francisco, a neighborhood that he admits doesn’t have many veterans. He has placed the sign by his apartment building, which he thinks will help spread awareness about PTSD while also reducing the number of fireworks in the area.

“I hope that it makes the neighborhood aware that there are veterans living there,” says Fullmer, who works in the education department for the San Francisco Giants baseball team.

“I’ve been in touch with a lot of veterans that live in my area, and I’ve gotten a lot of support from people,” he says.

“I’m also really hoping that this sign raises the awareness about PTSD,” he added.

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