Click here to listen to the audio.
I first met Rich Strandlof, alias Rick Duncan, in 2007. He called me because he had seen my contact information on an announcement for a military veterans' event called Impact Panels, which I had organized in spring 2007. He was interested in doing more of the same kind of thing: giving all veterans, especially young Iraq and Afghan war soldiers, the chance to speak to other veterans, their friends and supporters about their war experiences.
At our first meeting, Rick told me that in the Iraq War he had been a captain in a Marine Corps logistics unit, and been severely wounded in an IED explosion. He claimed to have a steel plate in his head and an artificial hip as a result of the injuries sustained in the explosion. I had my doubts about him, so I asked him to show me the scar on his head from the surgery. He showed me a small scar (it looked like he had had some stitches on his scalp) that did not look like something indicating major surgery.
Nevertheless, I took at him at his word, mainly because I have met many genuine war veterans with similar stories. He also told me that he was suffering from PTSD. I considered his behavior a symptom of this condition. Rick frequently acted very nervous, was tense, anxious and worried, couldn't sit still, would not make eye contact, and talked so rapidly that it was hard to understand him. He exhibited these traits on many occasions and others noticed them, too.
In 2007 and 2008 Rick organized a group called the Colorado Veterans Alliance, a loose-knit group of military veterans whose purpose was to advocate for veterans' issues. Rick was tireless in his leadership of this group and as far as I know everybody considered him the real thing-that is until some of his Board members in Denver got so suspicious that they investigated him and discovered that he was a complete phony and fraud.
Because of the war wounds, and because of the "PTSD" symptoms, no one wanted to do anything to upset Rick. Veterans are accustomed to take care of other veterans who are not "quite right," and we also respected Rick for what appeared to be selfless dedication to the cause of veterans. Those are the main reasons why he was able to fool us for so long.
I feel angry because Rick lied and deceived me and others, but in retrospect, I can say that I should have trusted my intuition and demanded to see Rick's honorable discharge papers. I should have demanded that he tell me exactly what unit he served with in the war. I didn't do that, but many others, including prominent politicians, did not, either.
But I can also say that Rick did some good for veterans. For instance, if it had not been for him, the police sweeps of homeless people, including some veterans, in Colorado Springs would not have ended. The Veterans' Open Mic Nights, which we held on many occasions in Colorado Springs, were also very valuable in helping the healing which so many veterans still seek. Rick helped to organize those.
It's too bad what happened with Rick. He's given all honorable war veterans, some who are true life heroes, a bad name. But he's mentally ill, and he deserves to have treatment for his condition.