Corporal David J. Smith joined the Marine Corps in 2003 and served as an Infantry Rifleman and Team Leader with Alpha Company “Raiders” of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. He was deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During his service, his unit was engaged in some of the heaviest fighting of the war to date including the battle of An Najaf in August 2004. Smith was honorably discharged in 2007, but upon his return to the States experienced severe symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress.
One event, in particular, hurt him the most. During an intense gunfight one night while trapped on the roof of a burning building, Smith caught movement and muzzle flashes out of the corner of his eye coming from a nearby alleyway below his position. He didn’t have his night-vision mounted because his team had been clearing through the building. Acting on instinct, Smith shot into that group of targets moving toward their position. It turned out to be a group of Marines and Smith wounded one of them. That warrior was sent home and had part of his foot amputated. Smith lost contact with him for many years and he didn’t know how well he was doing. It was the single most painful, regrettable moment of his life. Knowing that he had injured one of his own, “It haunted me for years.”
Afterwards, Smith says, “I had a very hard time admitting that something was wrong. Instead of taking responsibility for my transition like I should have and asking for help, I tried to ignore it all because it was painful and embarrassing and I didn’t want to appear weak. Ultimately, I found myself staring down the barrel of a shotgun. That’s when I realized I just couldn’t fix the problems on my own and I needed help.”
Smith participated in his first event with the Bush Center in 2012, riding in the W100k just a month after he had contemplated suicide. At that time, he remembers feeling like his heart was going to explode every day from all the emotions he was finally feeling again. It was really nice to be biking and laughing among other warriors. Since then, Smith works towards providing transition assistance for fellow veterans and eliminating the stigma of post-traumatic stress. In February 2015, Smith participated on a panel discussion with President Bush and three other veterans about transition in hopes it helps someone else avoid the same big mistake he almost made. “Seek the help you need and you’ll respect yourself for it.”
Today, Smith is a great example of Post-Traumatic Growth. He has re-focused himself, overcame obstacles, and is living a rich, fulfilling life. After graduating from UC Berkeley, Smith interned on the New York Stock Exchange, delivered disaster response with Team Rubicon in the Philippines, and traveled to almost 30 countries doing missionary and humanitarian projects. He finished those projects in December 2014 and moved to Norway, where he lives with his wife and works as the Chief Marketing Officer for Dogu AS, a software start-up company, while running a veteran transition resource blog on the side.
“Day-to-day life is amazing,” says Smith. “I don't struggle with depression and anxiety, I'm not afraid to fall in love or show my emotions, and I work hard to be a great man every single day. I refuse to let past failures or experiences shape the way that I view the world. I’ve never been happier, healthier, or more at peace than I am today.”