After serving eight years, eight months and 21 days in the Navy during the Vietnam War, Randy Voepel returned home to El Cajon in 1978 unsure about his future and with his mind affected by the horrors he had witnessed during his military service.
“I had PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), but I didn’t know it,” said Voepel, now an assemblyman representing eastern San Diego County in the state Legislature. “We didn’t know what it was. They simply said we were shell-shocked.”
Voepel enrolled in Grossmont College through the G.I. Bill and he credits his experience there with saving his life during that troubled time. He said having the goal of obtaining a college education, along with the support he received, helped him deal with the challenges he was facing.
Most importantly, he said, Grossmont College provided a place where he could connect with other veterans.
“I needed support and camaraderie with other veterans. Grossmont College provided that,” Voepel said. “I simply persevered. If a veteran gets up in the morning and perseveres, then they have a chance of success.”
He recalled that the instructors he had were sensitive to the special needs and concerns of veterans. In one class, he said, an instructor asked students to visualize walking through a tropical jungle toward a beach. With a third of the class Vietnam veterans, a tropical jungle brought back painful memories of wartime instead of a pleasant fantasy.
“We all started freaking out because walking through a tropical jungle was not our gig,” Voepel said. “The instructor changed his whole class around to help us out.”
Voepel was able to combine the credits from his Grossmont College classes with correspondence courses that he had taken while serving in the Navy to earn an associate degree from Saint Leo University.
|Randy Voepel and Grossmont College President |
After leaving the Navy, Voepel worked for nearly 40 years in the insurance industry. He served on the Santee City Council from 1996 to 2000, then served as mayor for 16 years until his election to the 71st District assembly seat.
He recently returned for a visit to the Grossmont College campus, wearing a baseball cap that recognized his Navy service.
“I left Grossmont College as a veteran, and I wanted to return as a veteran,” he said.