Within two weeks of David Smith boarding his first ship, a sailor committed suicide in his barracks.
Smith, 28, a 2010 graduate of Lincoln-Way Central High School and a 2014 graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, served in the U.S. Navy until 2020.
Now a Washington, D.C., resident, Smith is currently riding around the world on his motorcycle as an ambassador for Vets4Warriors, a veteran-run nonprofit anonymous call center, to support military mental health and suicide prevention.
Smith said he wants veterans who are struggling, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, to know that “there is an amazing organization out there” that can help them.
“I’m also available at any time,” Smith said, “and [I will] always take up a veteran on an offer to ride together.”
Smith launched his adventure in March, just as parts of the world shut down. But Smith couldn’t envision canceling a trip he’d planned for several years.
“I’m in a transition period,” Smith said. “I got out of the military. And basically this is my chance to do this before I start the next career.”
The book “Jupiters Travels: Four Years Around the World on a Triumph” by Ted Simon inspired this trip. Smith said he had never rode a motorcycle until 2017.
Smith said he’s been quarantined once, been tested three times and is healthy. He’s also been uplifted by the stories he’s heard along the way.
Mostly, he wants the public to be aware of the mental health challenges of people who are serving, or have served, in the military.
The 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention annual report from the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said the number of veteran suicides exceeded 6,000 each year from 2008 to 2017.
Smith said that it’s nothing the military is doing wrong and shared his perspective.
“People from all around the country leave their environment and they lose their social safety nets,” Smith said. “They’re uprooted into entirely new environments. That can be a stressor for a lot of people, along with the pressure of being in the military with especially high standards.”
When Smith completes the journey, which is at least a year away, he’s heading toward a career in finance.
To pay for the trip, Smith saved all his income from the day he received his commission and “then took it a step further with value-based investing.”
“This has enabled me to not work for a couple of years,” Smith said.
Follow Smith on Instagram at @westwardmoto.
For more information about Vets4Warriors, visit vets4warriors.com.