OKEECHOBEE — Veteran Randy Tucker was raised in Okeechobee and joined the Army in 2002. He was a 13MIKE, which is a multiple launch rocket crewman, a rocket launcher on wheels. He went to basic in Fort Sill, Oklahoma and completed his advanced individual training for artillery in Oklahoma. After that, he was deployed to South Korea for a year and was in an artillery battery on the DMZ protecting our troops.
“It was really, really hard, because we were always under alert, in and out of our bunkers. It was really intense. That year was more intense than combat in Iraq,” he said, “because at least in Iraq we could see far enough away, and we knew what was coming. In South Korea, you were just waiting for a bomb to hit you at any time.”
After 15 months in South Korea, he came back to Fort Sill, and the unit he was attached to was already deployed to Iraq. Because he had just come from a 15-month tour in a hazardous duty area, he was guaranteed six months stabilization time in the states, but he couldn’t handle staying here while our country was at war, and his friends were over there fighting. He decided to join them. He went to Balad Air Force Base in Iraq. People died 24/7 on that base, he said. “I had a mortar that, thank God was a dud, land about 20 feet from me,” he said. “It was still cooking and hot, and I’m laying there with my face in the ground looking at it.” He was in a rocket launcher, so they were doing some damage of their own, he said, and that was very hard for him to see.
When he came home from Iraq, he met a pretty girl and got married in Oklahoma. He did not realize it, but he had changed. At that time, it was frowned upon to say you had a problem though, he said.
“If you are in the wolf pack and surrounded by the other wolves, there is strength in unity, but once you break off and get alone, your mind starts to play tricks on you and makes you start questioning things,” he explained. “That woman ended up divorcing me over it. She told me she loved me and I was a great man, but she couldn’t handle the nightmares, the sleepwalking, the mood swings and me basically being a shell of a man.”
At first, he tried to just suck all the feelings up, but it got worse. It got to the point where he was screaming so loud and doing such crazy things in his apartment alone at night that people thought he was killing someone, and they would call the police. They would come, and find him standing there in his underwear not understanding what was happening. Finally, he knew he had to go get some help, but he went to the VA, and he regrets that, because the way they helped him was to give him a bag full of pills — everything from painkillers to sleep meds to anti depressants to anti anxiety medications. “Time flies so fast when you aren’t in your right mind, and little by little, I became addicted to those things,” he said. “It’s a roller coaster. You are taking some medications to take away the symptoms of another medication.”
He stopped taking those pills and started taking other things to self medicate. He lost everyone who was close to him, because they did not understand what was happening. He had become a drug addict, and no one seemed to realize it.
“I wanted to die,” he said. There was nothing in Okeechobee for veterans at that time. He spent many nights sleeping on a bench in the park and felt so alone. He wondered, where were all the people who said they loved him? Why didn’t anyone care about him anymore? He served his country. Why was he alone now?
“I felt so abandoned,” he said.
One night, in desperation, he called a high school friend and asked him to come over and talk.
“Sometimes it helps to talk to others who have been there,” he said. But the friend did not come. Instead, he sent an army of law enforcement. Mr. Tucker’s foster mother came running into his room and asked him what he did because there were cops everywhere outside and they all had weapons drawn. He said he is certain he would have died that night if it weren’t for Gregg Maynard. He was there that night, and he talked to the deputies who were out there, and they let him go in and talk to Mr. Tucker.
“Gregg is a good guy,” he said. “He is the only one who cares sometimes. He was the only one doing anything for veterans back then. There were a few times they locked me up in the psych ward at the VA and he was the only one that came to visit me.”
One of the women in town, who helped raise him, found out about a retreat in South Dakota for veterans and he went.
“It was the most beautiful place in the world,” he said. He stayed on until the snows came, but with only one leg, it was hard to walk in the snow, so he came home.
Now, he wants to work with Mr. Maynard and help other veterans. “I have a heart for the other veterans here in this town. God has put it on my heart. People have stepped in for me a couple times. They gave me enough hope and love that it makes me want to do better and give back because I really shouldn’t be alive right now,” he said.