Randy Dull joined the U.S. Army in June 2000, and served for 15 years between active duty and National Guard. He was deployed to Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and finished his service as a staff sergeant. He is the veterans service officer for Dukes County.
I have survivor’s guilt from an instance, after I got injured, when I wasn’t there for five guys who died in a vehicle incident.
I was close with them. It was one of those, “When I worked with the driver, did I train him well enough? Would my being there have changed anything?” Because I would have been out on that mission.
[They] were going with special operators to conduct a high-value target. It was either going to be a quick and easy mission or there would be a lot of firefighting. They had an Abrams tank, the lead vehicle. The Bradley [Fighting Vehicle] my friends were in … they were unable to see that half of the road collapsed under the tank ahead of them. So when they went over a small berm, they couldn’t see that a quarter of the road collapsed, and they rolled into a canal.
Eight years ago, I wouldn’t have talked about this. When I came home, my initial mentality was, “If you’re not infantry or haven’t seen what I have seen, I don’t want to talk to you about it. I don’t want to hear your issues.” I was very ignorant.
I started going to a veterans group on the Vineyard. My first meeting, I was sitting next to a Navy SEAL, and I was like, “You’ve seen so much more than I have, and you’re here.” I could freely talk. It was 15 people all going through their different experiences. If you had a crummy week, you could talk about your crummy week. In essence, it’s the group healing. And if you are going through something, someone else there has done it themselves, or something similar. So they give you different tools in the toolbox to help you along.
With a group or with other veterans, it’s nice being able to know you can talk with someone, rather than trying to do it alone. A good portion of my generation, [we were] trying to do it alone, and it hasn’t worked. I think I’ve buried the same amount, if not more people, than I’ve lost in all my combat deployments, due to suicide … after they try to do it alone.
You’ll never be 100 percent afterward. With PTSD, there are certain things you do. It’s like clockwork, you don’t think about it, but you always have your back to a wall. Always looking for the closest exit.
With a group, you don’t have to talk if you don’t want to. But it brings back a quality of life where you are not constantly looking over your shoulder. Instead of being blatant, it just becomes subconscious. I’m perfectly fine with it. Like going into town, I can sit at high-tops at a bar. Before, it had to be a wall. Had to be next to a door. You can get that quality of life back where you can sit wherever you want, and not have to worry about it.
Coming home [the reception was different]. When I was injured, I flew home to the Island; there were probably 30, 40 veterans that met me. Another deployment, you walk off the boat, you have the veteran honor guard. You had an engine from every fire department. A squad car from every police department. The welcoming home we got — after seeing, specifically seeing what the Vietnam guys got — to me has definitely changed.
Interview by Sam Houghton.