Bobby Davis did not want to go to college.
He had carved his career plan in stone, thanks in part to a fascination with his grandfather’s tales of “shooting guns” and “hand-to-hand combat.”
Davis’ grandfather was a Vietnam War veteran, Bronze Star recipient and United States Marine.
He wanted to be a Marine, too.
So four days after his 18th birthday, the Fairmont native’s march to the Marines began in a van bound for Parris Island, S.C.
Once at the Recruit Depot, his life turned upside down. Fiery drill instructors and nagging sand fleas aided in that transition.
“(After driving 10 hours) we were disoriented and tired,” Davis recalls. “Yet everyone yelled at you, whether you did something wrong or not. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, though.”
Soon, he’d endure a year in Iraq.
And then a year in Afghanistan.
But along the way, something happened to that career plan Davis had carved in stone. It quickly faded.
Books, not bullets
Davis led Marines on street patrols during his 13-month deployment to the Anbar Province of Iraq. As dangerous as it sounds, he considers this experience “pacified.” With tons of downtime, Davis learned about the new G.I. Bill and its benefits for funding a college education.
The boy who swore off college now flirted with it.
The uncertainty of military life coupled with a few nerve-wracking clashes with the Taliban, which made his tour of Iraq look like a tranquil beach vacation, sped up this new thought process.
“If you’re in the military, next month, you could be anywhere in the world,” Davis said. “I wanted more control over my future.”
While nestled away in the mountains of Afghanistan, Davis exchanged emails with Terry Miller, veterans advocate at WVU, about enrolling at the University.
“He was helpful in getting me everything I needed,” Davis said. “I spent my last six months in the Marines focused on going to school what to major in, what classes to take. Once I heard about that G.I. Bill, I knew I could do it.”
Home sweet home?
Fear. Emptiness. Despair.
It afflicts many soldiers after they come home from the mayhem and bloodshed.
They’d spent days taking marching orders, yearning for the comforts of American life and staring at the face of death.
Then, in a flash, they’re home sweet home. But home isn’t as sweet as they remember. Now they must confront new battles.
Davis’ story is no different.
Transfixed on the military as a youngster, Davis felt relief upon receiving his honorable discharge as he returned to Fairmont in April 2011.
Relief turned to distress.
“I thought, ‘Everything’s going to be great when I get back,’” Davis said. “But everything wasn’t the same. I felt alone. I felt thrown back here. It’s a struggle to find your identity.
“Many veterans find that old friends, who were once such a definitive part of their lives, have vanished. This dilemma can leave one questioning his or her decision to leave the military. Therefore, I spent the summer months feeling as if I were lost.”
After a few months home as a civilian, Davis would find his life turned upside down yet again. He was entering WVU as a freshman at age 23.
He was no longer a soldier. His comrades in battle were scattered and gone. His identity was unformed.
“My fear was getting here,” he said. “In high school, I had a hard time focusing. I was afraid that would happen here, too. If I failed here, then I really wouldn’t know what to do with myself.”
Montani Semper (Fi) Liberi
Before his first day on campus, Davis participated in an Adventure WV trip. Adventure WV, which began as an outdoor orientation program for incoming WVU students, hosted a whitewater rafting trip for student veterans.
“That week turned out to be one of the greatest times of my life, but more importantly, I gained a valuable network of WVU staff members, students and incoming veterans like myself before I had even stepped foot inside of a classroom,” Davis said.
Just like his transition into the Marines, he’d endure his transition as a Mountaineer.
On his first day of class, he knew he’d be alright. He’d build relationships with fellow students through veterans’ clubs, through Adventure WV, through support and study groups. He connected with students who faced the same obstacles he had in combat. He found out he wasn’t alone.
He enrolled in a public speaking class for veterans taught by Carolyn Atkins, a professor of speech pathology at WVU. He formed a new identity for himself not only as a student, but as a role model and a leader in that class.
“Bobby is representative of most veterans,” Atkins said. “When getting out of the military they have difficulty finding their way. He talked about Iraq and Afghanistan, and he didn’t know if he was capable of being a college student.”
Atkins said Davis excelled.
His attitude and work ethic impressed Atkins so much that she volunteered him to speak about leadership and love of country before a group of 400 people, including legislators, alumni and University officials, at the Capital Classic luncheon in Charleston in January.
That day, Davis crafted a speech that brought down the house, earning three rounds of applause and ending with a standing ovation. Some in the audience cried.
“It was the first time I received a standing ovation,” Davis said. “Dr. Atkins and I rehearsed it several times and she helped me get rid of the ‘ums’ and ‘you knows,’ which she calls ‘fillers.’ She helped tremendously with my public speaking. Opportunities stemmed from that class that helped me create a name for myself.”
Now in his second semester at WVU, Davis has maintained a 4.0 GPA; is a leader and teacher in veterans’ groups; writes a column for the student newspaper and is learning multiple languages as an international studies major.
A few years earlier, Davis had already experienced the world. Now he wants to experience the world again, but in a different way.
“I want to work as a foreign services officer and be a diplomat in other countries,” he said. “I’d like to be a friendly face for the U.S. for other cultures.”
Davis is just one of hundreds of veterans furthering their education at WVU. For the third straight year, WVU has been recognized as a “military friendly” campus by G.I. Jobs.
Davis’ story is a prime example of how WVU has helped steer veterans back on track in the civilian world.
“You have to recognize what WVU has done that a lot of schools don’t,” he said. “I call friends at other schools and tell them we have priority registration, vets trips, vets clubs. They don’t have any of that stuff. They’re just another face at their school.
“I’m sure that I speak for all veterans when I say, ‘Thank you, West Virginia University, for enhancing the well-being and quality of life for your sons and daughters, especially those who have served this country.’”
By Jake Stump
CONTACT: University Relations/News
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