“He saved my life”: Dexter, Captain an inspirational K9s For Warriors success story
March 13, 2019
By Doug Milne, PGATOUR.COM
- March 13, 2019
- Randy Dexter and his dog Captain. (Courtesy of PGA TOUR)
At 20 years old, Randy Dexter set out to serve his country as a combat medic in the U.S. Army. As is the case with most men and women who enlist, enthusiastic feelings of honor and confidence were mixed with trepidation and fear of the unknown. After all, in the service, there are no knowns, no guarantees.
Dexter would serve for 11 years as a combat medic and collect two bronze stars along the way. He deployed to Iraq on two occasions, where he spent over two years on the front lines.
On April 5, 2005, just three months into his first deployment, the unknown showed its face in hideous fashion in Baghdad.
About a mile after leaving the base gate with passengers in a military vehicle, an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated, changing his life forever. He was among the lucky ones.
Best estimates were that the explosion was at an artillery round of at least 155 millimeters. That’s an extremely intense blow.
While those in his vehicle suffered only minor injuries, seemingly, another vehicle transporting three Iraqi civilians produced a devastating outcome. Despite Dexter’s effort to treat the driver of that vehicle, it was a life that could not be saved.
Dexter would go on to experience the debilitating symptoms of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. He was medically retired in 2013 after 11 years of service.
“It’s been almost 14 years, but April 5, 2005 is a day that replays in my mind all the time,” Dexter said. “It’s tough to turn it off when you come home.”
Upon his return home to California, Dexter would eventually be taking 14 different kinds of medication. Despite the medication, he was consumed by the urge to take his own life.
“It was extremely hard for my family,” said Dexter. “We had three kids. Pretty much everything we had been working towards the previous 12 years had been torn away.”
Dexter tried using the GI bill to go to school, but would be placed on “Progress Probation.” For the time being, as a result of the PTSD, Dexter’s efforts to get an education would prove too difficult.
By his own admission, Dexter was at the end of his rope.
About that time, Shari Duval, wife of former PGA TOUR Champions player, Bob Duval, was putting into place the K9s For Warriors program. The goal of the initiative was to pair a service dog with a wounded warrior.
Each year since 2013, THE PLAYERS Championship has given a $10,000 Red Coat Grant to K9s For Warriors to sponsor a service canine. In addition, several years ago, K9s For Warriors began receiving sizeable donations from the PGA TOUR’s Birdies for the Brave program.
Dexter saw a shard of light.
“When I finally got accepted into K9s For Warriors, I was ecstatic,” Randy said. “I finally had some hope that I could finally live a life that’s not riddled with isolation.”
That ray of light gave way to blue skies.
“I remember going into the kennel and seeing him for the first time,” Dexter said. “Our President said, ‘Randy, I’d like to introduce you to your new service dog. This is Captain.’ I broke down. I lost it. The way he was looking at me was amazing. He saved my life.”
In many ways, Captain and Randy saved one another. In all he does today, Captain remains at Dexter’s side.
“When I got back home to San Diego from Jacksonville with Captain, I started classes the next day,” Dexter said. “I became President of the Honor Society and our graduation commencement speaker. I then transferred to University of Nevada, Las Vegas. All of these amazing things started happening to me, and it was all because of Captain.”
Since graduating from the K9s For Warriors program, Dexter has been riding the wave of success. He graduated with Honors and a B.A. in Communication from UNLV, where he was also chapter president of the Student Veterans of America.
“Captain has changed my life in ways I could never have dreamed of,” Dexter said. “He made it possible for me to graduate college, he saved my marriage, and has allowed me to be a dad again. He saved me.”
In early 2018, Randy became the Campus Director of K9s For Warriors’ second training campus in Alachua, where he lives with his wife, Becky, and their three kids, Levi, Selena and Sophie.
“Being a part of that now, on the other side, is just phenomenal,” said Randy. “The wait list is so long, and people come after having waited for this moment. It’s just amazing.”
While Dexter’s past is one that will forever leave its marks, scars are merely reminders of where one has been and signs of how far one has come.
“Everything we’ve been through, from the treatments to the trials of being out of the military and trying to make ends meet, it’s been a tough run,” Dexter said. “But, to be here today, in this moment, helping my brothers and sisters in arms, is truly why I believe I am here on this earth. It is my purpose. I have found what I was meant to do.”
The past does produce its indelible marks before leaving a person at a crossroad. The attitude with how one manages that past, though, can often dictate the road ahead.
“I try to look back at everything with a ‘glass-half-full’ attitude,” Dexter said. “I’ve learned from my experiences that sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to leave us with nothing left to hold you back from reaching for the stars.”
When looking at the big picture of all the PGA TOUR and PLAYERS Championship do to support its military through special events and financial and emotional support, it would be easy for someone like Randy Dexter to remain lost in a myriad of impressive numbers.
But, for every member of the United States Armed Forces – past and present – there are these stories. There are these faces. There are these families and individuals whose lives and livelihoods are enhanced by these efforts.
To pay honor and respect to the men and women of the military this week alone, military activation measures include Military Appreciation Day, complete with a ceremony and concert; a Military Job Fair; Operation Shower for military moms-to-be and significant others; the Patriots’ Outpost; and free tournament tickets to all active and retired members of the Armed Forces and their families.
Those are just some of the ways in which THE PLAYERS Championship and PGA TOUR support its troops. It adds up to a lot of numbers.
A face, a name and a story, like Dexter’s, is attached to every one of them.