SAHUARITA, Ariz. (Sept. 20 2023) – While attending a retreat to receive intensive treatment for PTSD and a traumatic brain injury (TBI), U.S. Army veteran Christopher Smith discovered his passion for photography.
During his 15-day stay he took almost 5,000 photos on his smartphone. Now, with the support of Hope For The Warriors and its Warrior’s Wish program, he has a Nikon Z62 and a GoPro 360 Max to assist him with honing his photography skills.
“I found that photography helps me stay in the present,” shared Smith. “Be present in the moment and not always constantly think about what’s going on at home – helps me reset. When I have anger outbursts photography helps calm me down. It’s almost like meditation for me.”
He’s taken his passion for photography even further by pursuing a bachelors photo journalism degree from the Academy of Art University.
Originally from southern California, Smith enlisted in the Army at 17. While serving, he was a forward observer in his unit and served a yearlong deployment in Baghdad. His company was tasked with many different objectives from transporting prisoners, over watch and shows of force missions. During this deployment Smith suffered a TBI from an enemy rocket impact.
After many more close calls while serving, he returned home for leave and was moved to another unit. He recognized he was not the same person. It was difficult for him to stay focused and remember critical steps in his job and he began self-medicating to cope with the effects of PTSD and his TBI.
Today, discharged from the military, Smith is four years sober and the father to a seven-year old daughter.
“I struggled for many years with drugs and alcohol and struggled with mental health,” shared Smith. “In 2019 I got sober – to becoming a better person and most importantly a better dad.”
Smith says his passion for photography has also strengthened his relationship with his daughter.
“Photography helps us stay close (daughter). We’re already two peas in a pod. We have fun taking pictures of landscapes together. She takes pictures of me, taking pictures of sunsets, etc.”
He shares that he was at a standstill with the camera he was utilizing for his studies and what it meant to him to learn his Warrior’s Wish was being granted.
“I cried when I found it, there was no way I was going to get a camera like that myself. Just the feeling of being able to finish school with the functions I needed (with the new camera) overcame me.”
Not only does the camera support his education but it also eases some of his PTSD symptoms.
“The new equipment makes me more likely to go with crowds,” he shared. “The camera make me willing to go to events and such … the camera provides a barrier between me and others. I’m always smiling behind the camera, it’s always enjoyable.
“The camera couldn’t have come at a better time. I needed that uplift at that point. It uplifted my spirit and helped me get through some harder times in the past few years. It’s hard to describe the feeling you’ve get when you receive something you’ve been looking at for a few years,” he added.
In addition to pursing his photojournalism degree, Smith works with a local veteran nonprofit volunteering his time at local events, and is training for the upcoming Marine Corps marathon.
“Not only is Christopher pursing his passion to help ease the effects of PTSD and his TBI, but he’s also utilizing it to further his education and that’s exciting for us at HOPE,” said Robin Kelleher, co-founder and CEO of Hope For The Warriors. “In addition, any time a Warrior’s Wish can help bring enhance family memories with quality time spent together, we can’t be more pleased.”
As one of the organization’s first established programs, the Warrior’s Wish program fulfills a desire for a better quality-of-life beyond recovery or supports a quest for life-gratifying endeavors for those who have sustained severe physical and psychological wounds in the line of duty.
Since 2006, Hope For The Warriors has provided over $2.5 million in grants, assisting with 271 wishes.
Hope For The Warriors
About Hope For The Warriors: Founded in 2006, Hope For The Warriors is a national nonprofit dedicated to restoring a foundation of stability, strength and community for post-9/11 veterans, service members and military families. Since its inception, Hope For The Warriors has served over 159,000 through a variety of support programs focused on providing financial, career and educational stability; physical and emotional strength; and social support that builds community. One of the nonprofit’s first programs, Military Spouse and Caregiver Scholarships, has awarded 232 scholarships to caregivers and families of the fallen. For more information, visit hopeforthewarriors.org, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.