FRANKFORT (AP) — Mark Creech is fighting a war right here at home, one that sends the American soldier into a personal battle every day — yet one of which most are unaware.
When he returned from a 15-month deployment to Iraq in 2006, he brought with him the memories of a combat zone.
“I was in four separate I.E.D. hits on my vehicle alone,” Creech said. “It was just not an easy deployment.”
Several years and one Afghanistan tour later, Creech still faces a daily battle with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Experts think up to 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have PTSD, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.
Now a group of local citizens is working to help combat veterans escape their invisible enemy. They plan to donate around 500 yard signs to combat veterans in this area, meant to inform and educate their neighbors about PTSD.
PTSD is something that is often hidden by those who are suffering, but not Creech.
“I’m not afraid to admit that I do have those issues,” he said. “I accept that and that’s just part of who I am and who I am after that experience.
“Just like someone who was in a bad car wreck has post- traumatic stress after that and doesn’t like going down a certain road . it’s not really any different than that, it’s just a less common experience.”
A side effect of the secrecy of the disease, Creech said people who haven’t been directly touched by PTSD often don’t understand what it’s like.
“When I first came back from Iraq I was still working for the state and there was not one single veteran of the current conflict that was employed in the building,” Creech said. “No one understood why when they slammed their filing cabinet door I’m jumping up, looking to see where it’s coming from.”
Creech now works at Boone National Guard, surrounded by other veterans who face similar struggles.
As time passes, he said his triggers change, but he’s getting better at dealing with them. Though it isn’t the most comfortable thing, he said, he can take his son to see fireworks.
“We went to a fireworks show two years ago that my boss had . but I thought I was going to break her arm,” he said, pointing to his laughing wife, Angie Creech.
After years of watching her husband suffer, Angie Creech unintentionally sparked the idea for the sign donations.
While routinely surfing Facebook one day, Angie Creech said she came across an article about a combat veteran who had posted a yard sign in front of his home, asking his neighbors to be courteous with loud noises and fireworks.
“I looked at (Mark) and said, ‘We need one of those,’” she said.
She reposted the article and it caught the attention of family friend Laurel Dailey, she said.
“Fundraising is what I do. That’s my charitable contribution to the community,” Dailey said. “It just kind of grew from there.”
Dailey sought help from Abracadabra Graphics, a local design, printing and promotional company. In a matter of days, they had printed a similar sign for the Creech yard — just in time for the Fourth of July.
“Actually it was a lot quieter this year,” Angie Creech said. “So I don’t know if that had an impact or not.”
But they didn’t stop there.
The group is now trying to raise more than $1,500 to print and donate 500 yard signs to combat veterans in the area, free of charge.
“The community needs to know that these guys, they went out and they sacrificed so much for us,” Dailey said, “but the battle didn’t end when they came home.”
Abracadabra Graphics owner Ed Steverson said he and his wife, Tracy, are only charging for their material cost, donating design and labor time.
“It’s more to give back to the veterans that have done so much for us,” Ed Steverson said. “I’m not really looking for anything out of it.”
“It’s not something you know is there and it’s not something a lot of veterans are comfortable talking about,” Dailey said. “I think it’s time that that stops . I think that it’s time they be recognized for their service and not have to cower in their homes.”
Dailey has set up a GoFundMe account to raise the money. The more money donated, the more signs can be made for veterans.
“We’re not trying to hinder anybody’s fun or anything like that. We just want them to be aware that he does live here,” Angie Creech said of her husband. “I’m not asking them to be as quiet as they can. just be courteous to the fact that he’s been somewhere that we will never comprehend.”
Mark Creech said he has mixed emotions about the sign in his yard, not wanting to use his PTSD as an excuse for anything. However, the opportunity to help other veterans is his driving force.
He hopes by Independence Day 2015, veterans from all wars who suffer from PTSD can have a similar sign in their yard.
“Maybe their neighbors set stuff off,” he said. “Maybe they’ve spent the last 40 years inside their living room on the Fourth of July unable to celebrate the holiday they fought for because there was just too much going on and they can’t take it.”