PARK CITY — When Joseph Perez returned from Iraq in 2003, he spent a few months in the hospital recovering from the shrapnel in his head and back after a mortar went off next to him during a prison riot.
But it took him two years in a clinic to recover from the mental trauma.
"Post-traumatic stress disorder is a huge, daily battle," Perez said. "I went from Superman to the lowest word you can think of."
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD is an anxiety disorder that comes when the "fight-or-flight" response is damaged from traumatic or stressful incidents. For Perez, PTSD kept him in a mental clinic for two years, not knowing one day from another.
Bradley Chidester also returned from his Army tour in Iraq with PTSD, as well as shrapnel in his chest, arms and face, when a vehicle detonated next to his in Mosul, Iraq. His PTSD prevents him from driving without heavy anxiety medication and keeps him constantly watching the reflections in windows and sunglasses to see what's going on behind him.
"In a war zone, you need that to keep you alive," Chidester said. "But out here, people don't understand. There are so many misconceptions."
To honor and thank Perez, Chidester and their families, Christmas Can Cure and the Wounded Warrior Project are trying to give both families the perfect Christmas. Both families are staying in Park City for the weekend in free suites at the Resorts West Silver Star and will be treated to ski lessons at Park City resorts, dinner, and shopping at local businesses and numerous other gifts. Local Girl Scout Troop 442 and Boy Scout Troop 72 welcomed the families with a flag-raising ceremony Saturday, and Midway Elementary invited them to go sledding at Soldier Hollow.
In all, Greg Lee, Christmas Can Cure Park City host, said that thanks to the generosity of local businesses and community members, he wouldn't be surprised if the gifts and donations for the families exceeded $50,000.
Chidester came with his wife and four daughters from Fountain Green, Sanpete County. He said at first he was a little embarrassed to accept the invitation, but he was thankful to know people appreciated him and his family.
"I don't feel like I did anything spectacular," he said. "We just signed up to do a job and became victims of our circumstances. A Purple Heart isn't something you earn; it's something you receive."
Perez said he was also very grateful, especially since the event honored his wife and three daughters, as well. The family currently lives in Logandale, Nev.
Chidester and Perez still struggle with PTSD. Chidester takes anti-anxiety medication, and Perez says the smell of garbage still reminds him of the rotting bodies they uncovered in mass graves.
Once while he and a friend were chopping wood, Perez's friend struck a pipe. When the pipe started leaking, the sound overwhelmed Perez and sent him back to the war zone.
"For about half an hour, I didn't know where I was," he said. "I thought I was back in Iraq. It sounds untrue, but it does happen.
However, standing at Park City's Old Miner's Hospital at the flag-raising ceremony, the biggest thing both men seemed concerned with was enjoying the weekend ahead of them.
"This is overwhelming," Chidester said. "It's really, really great."