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.” Bobby’s 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 eighteenth birthday, the Fairmont native’s march to the Marines began in a van bound for Parris Island, SC. Once at the Recruit Depot, his life turned upside down. Fiery drill instructors and nagging sand fleas aided in that transition. “(After driving ten hours) we were disoriented and tired,” Bobby recalls. “Yet everyone yelled at you, whether you did something wrong or not. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, though.”

He endured. Soon, he’d endure a year in Iraq. And then a year in Afghanistan. But along the way, something happened to that career plan Bobby had carved in stone. It quickly faded.

Meanwhile, and closer to home, West Virginia University emerged as a top military-friendly campus in the nation.

BOOKS, NOT BULLETS

Bobby 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, Bobby learned about the new GI 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 histour of Iraq look like a tranquil beach vacation, sped up this new thought process.


Bobby Davis, of Fairmont, W.Va., joined the Marines after graduating high school. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan, but after five years in the military he knew he needed to move on to something else. But he didn’t know what. He felt lost. Eventually, he found a home at West Virginia University, which has been named a “military-friendly” campus for three straight years. wvuveterans.wvu.edu


“If you’re in the military, next month, you could be anywhere in the world,” Bobby said. “I wanted more control over my future.” While nestled away in the mountains of Afghanistan, Bobby exchanged e-mails with Terry Miller, WVU’s veterans advocate at the time, about enrolling at the University.

“He was helpful in getting me everything I needed,” Bobby 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 GI 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.

Bobby’s story is no different. Transfixed on the military as a youngster, Bobby 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,’” Bobby 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, Bobby 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, Bobby participated in an Adventure WV trip. Adventure WV, which began as an outdoor orientation program for incomingWVU students, hosted a whitewater rafting trip for student veterans.

“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.”
—Bobby Davis

“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,” Bobby 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 all right. 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 Bobby 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, Bobby 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,” Bobby 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 year at WVU, Bobby 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, Bobby 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 United States for other cultures.”

Bobby is just one of hundreds of veterans furthering their education at WVU. For the fourth straight year, WVU has been recognized as a “military friendly” campus by GI Jobs. Bobby’s 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.’”