Dave Smith has been to war.
He lost close friends in battle, and later his best friend to suicide.
He stared down the barrel of a shotgun himself, seconds away from pulling the trigger.
He has since befriended former President George W. Bush, and is now three months into an 11-month global mission trip, the World Race.
A graduate of Garfield High School in Akron, Smith also has been dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and feels he is on the road to recovery.
“A lot of things seemed to have collapsed on me at once, but I knew I had a choice: To fix it or let it continue to wreck my life,” he said. “I chose to fix it.”
Recently in Thailand as part of the World Race, Smith, 28, is a Marine veteran who served from 2003 to 2007. He had one tour in Iraq, taking part in the battle of Najaf in August 2004. A second tour took him to the Western Pacific.
Already, Smith has been to South Africa, Swaziland, India and Nepal. After Thailand, he will go to Cambodia, Vietnam, Ireland, Romania, Turkey and Albania.
In a 2004 Beacon Journal article, Smith spoke about the battle of Najaf:
“During the fighting in Najaf, we took 17 casualties and had two killed in action. After the fighting subsided, we were pulled to the rear. Yesterday we had a memorial ceremony for our fallen heroes. I want to thank all of you for your prayers. I know it’s more than luck that I didn’t get killed on several occasions.”
In 2010, Smith met Clay Hunt, also a Marine veteran who helped him tremendously, Smith said.
“He was seeking counseling and treatment and talked me into doing the same,” Smith said.
But in 2011, Hunt took his own life.
About a year later, Smith said his life was falling apart. He said he was drinking and dealing with the aftermath of war.
“I found myself just simply not able to care about the trivial and mundane parts of life when I returned home,” he said. “I’d get drunk and surf at night. Drink and mountain bike. Take long, solitary road trips and backpacking adventures seeking meaning.”
One night, after drinking, he found himself alone in his room, holding a shotgun.
“Luckily, I did what I wish Clay would have done,” he said. “I put the gun in my roommate’s room, locked the door from the inside and left.”
After that incident, Smith said, he started to turn his life around. He stopped drinking and began getting counseling at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
He realized that he had been “at the bottom of my own hole, looking up,” he wrote in his blog.
And he realized he needed God in his life.
“I was going to have to work my a-- off to fix what needed fixed,” he wrote in his blog. “And I was going to need all the help that God could possibly give me to accomplish that.”
In 2012, Smith, who had been involved with the Wounded Warriors Project, heard about a bike ride for veterans held by former President George W. Bush called the W100K. He applied to take part and was selected.
While in Texas for the ride, he met with Bush and told him his story of dealing with PTSD.
This February, at the Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative Summit, Empowering Our Nation’s Warriors, Bush spoke of Smith.
The former president called Smith “an inspiration to our vets and should be to our fellow Americans. He is living proof that PTSD does not have to be an obstacle to a successful life.”
Last year, Smith went with Team Rubicon — veterans who help out following natural disasters — to the Philippines.
The World Race is a Christian mission, and Smith is working with orphanages, building schools and digging wells around the globe.
“I am so amazed,” Kathi Allen, of Houston, said of her son and all he has done and been through. She said she is humbled and happy that “God got a hold of him again.”
Asked about his plans for the future, Smith said: “I want to be a great father and husband. I want to live my life according to God’s plan because my own plan sure doesn’t get me anywhere. I want to pursue an MBA and continue to help fellow veterans get the care they need and to fight to remove the stigma surrounding PTSD.”
To read Dave Smith’s blog, go to http://davesmith.theworldrace.org.
To see Bush’s complete speech, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1P7-1ndMBAw&feature=youtu.be.
For more on the W100K, go to www.bushcenter.org/military-service-initiative/w100k.
For more on the World Race, go to www.theworldrace.org.
And for more on Dave Smith’s friend Clay Hunt, watch this CBS 60 Minutes story: www.cbsnews.com/news/the-life-and-death-of-clay-hunt/.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or email@example.com.