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A ‘doorkicker’ on campus: UC Berkeley student and Iraq veteran tells his story


For many of us, ten years can seem like a long time. Things that happened a decade ago feel far away. But for veterans of the Iraq war, and their families, ten years can feel like very little – because the damage wrought by that war is still right there with them.

ossYou may have heard the story of Tomas Young, a veteran who was shot and paralyzed by sniper fire just days into his deployment in Iraq. He’s made headlines recently because, after nearly ten years of physical pain, he’s decided to stop taking medication, remove his feeding tube, and end his life.

Young has been very public about his wish to die. Other pain is more private.

Last year, at least 349 veterans committed suicide – more than died in combat in Afghanistan. Congress and the military have taken steps to try and help, but transitioning to civilian life is difficult and it can take a long time for deeply buried issues to surface.

"If you would have asked me to do this interview five years ago, wasn’t gonna happen," says Iraq veteran and UC Berkeley student Dave Smith. "One, because I didn’t know how, didn’t know how to put it into words. And two, because I wouldn’t talk to you about it. I’d just block you out, like, ‘I don’t think so, who are you?’"

Smith was in the Marine Corps from 2003 to 2007, and deployed to Iraq twice. Now, he’s just a few months away from earning his bachelor's degree at Berkeley. But he says he almost didn’t make it through.

"Going on a combat deployment, really being in combat, it's kind of like taking a plate, you know, and dropping it on the ground," he says. "So, where you're the plate, and you drop that plate on the ground – you can put it together afterwards, but it's not gonna be quite the same plate."

Click the player above to hear his conversation with KALW’s Casey Miner about life after the war.

You can read more of Dave Smith’s story, as well as the stories of other veterans, in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Insight section this coming Sunday.  We partnered with the Chronicle to produce this series, and we’ll have more veteran interviews on Crosscurrents in the next few weeks.