Soldier running from Georgia to Indianapolis to raise awareness of veterans' concerns

photo Cpl. Cory Smith adjusts his balaclava before he begins his run north from Summerville, Ga., on Friday. Cpl. Smith is running from Fort Benning, Ga., to Indianapolis, Ind., to raise awareness about the difficulties veterans have in finding work after they leave the service.

KEEP UPTo follow Cpl. Cory Smith's progress online:• Twitter -- @runranger• Facebook --• www.gallantfew.orgTo join him on his run across the Veterans Bridge at 11 a.m. Monday, contact Sandra Richelson at The planned route will begin near the Fourth Street intersection, cross the bridge and continue down Frazier Avenue, Cherokee Boulevard and through the tunnel to Signal Mountain Road, and then onto U.S. 27.

The first time Cpl. Cory Smith ran for 20 miles was the first day of his planned 650-mile run from Fort Benning, Ga., to Indianapolis.

On Friday, the 28-year-old Army soldier began his day's run in Summerville, Ga., and is scheduled to run across the Veterans Bridge in Chattanooga on Monday morning.

The run is partly a way to raise awareness for veterans seeking jobs after leaving the military. The estimated 28-day crucible is also a pathway to help Smith sort out his life, he said in a recent phone interview.

A four-year stint in the Army, which included two Afghanistan tours with the 75th Ranger Regiment, took its toll on Smith's marriage. Last year, he moved his wife and infant daughter back home to Indianapolis on what he thought would be a short separation.

He learned a short time later that she wanted a divorce.

"I came home to an empty place," Smith said. "To the pink walls of my daughter's room. There was just a lot of emptiness in my heart."

So Smith turned to his pastor and his church community near the base. The pastor counseled that this could be a blessing in disguise. After Smith endured such personal and professional stress in the military, the pastor advised him to use the time to figure out who he is and what he wants in life.

A few nights after that conversation, he attended a musical event put on by the church and, during an intense prayer session, felt the support and compassion of the congregation.

Afterwards, his friends asked him what he was going to do when he got out of the military.

"I might just run home," Smith joked.

But a vivid dream later that night made him think more seriously about the offhand comment. In the dream, he saw himself running over roads, fields, mountains and snow, all the way to a lake near his childhood home in Shelbyville, Ind.

He woke the next morning, rose off his air mattress and went for a run.

It didn't go well.

"The first day I did 12 miles, six out and tried to do six in," he said. "My whole body started cramping up."

Smith plodded along as the months passed, gaining both physical endurance and friendly support.

By the time he began his run, leaving Fort Benning on Jan. 3, he had been given apparel to wear, help with places to stay along the route, a friend and later his mom driving a vehicle ahead of him to navigate his route north.

Karl Monger, founder and executive director of GallantFew Inc., connected with Smith through a fellow U.S. Army Ranger. Monger, a former Ranger, founded GallantFew in 2010 to connect Rangers and other military veterans with vets from similar backgrounds when they leave the service.

Smith knew from friends that finding work in the down economy has been tough for veterans. He wants his run to garner attention for the "tough road" ahead for veterans when they re-enter civilian life.

Monger said in a recent phone interview that his organization saw Smith's efforts as a good way to promote their nearly identical goals.

Shortly after the Persian Gulf War ended, Monger left the Army and sought a civilian job. The Ranger officer who'd helped run battalion-level operations in combat couldn't get many employers to understand his skills.

"I had a very difficult time explaining to a company why they should be able to offer me anything above an entry-level job," Monger said.

Through another veteran then working at a construction company, Monger landed a supervisory job more in line with his experience.

For Smith's endeavor, Monger has people who are coordinating media relations during Smith's run and logistical support such as hotel stays, protein bars, water and invitations to local events that will highlight his efforts.

Smith's been fortunate, though. On a rare day off last week, he flew to Indianapolis for a job interview and took the offer from BOLD Marketing Strategies a day later.

There's some flexibility in his run schedule for breaks, potential injuries or setbacks, but the window is narrow.

"My ultimate goal is to make it to downtown Indianapolis on Monument Circle prior to Super Bowl Sunday" on Feb. 6, he said.