West Point's Smiley-driving on with life
February 1, 2010
Soldier, Infantryman, Airborne, Ranger, combat diver, mountain climber, skier, triathlete, surfer, husband and father are just a few words to describe Capt. Scotty Smiley. Now, add company commander to his decorated resume and incredible distinction. At 1 p.m. Monday, Smiley became the first blind officer who has been bestowed the responsibility of leading a company as he assumed command of the Warrior Transition Unit at West Point.
For people not familiar with Smiley's story, the idea of an officer at the rank of captain taking command is part of the normal progression in a commissioned officer's career path and this is the way the new commander feels.
Yet, what makes him so similar to so many throughout the Armed Forces has allowed him to overcome so much to get to this point. During Smiley's last deployment to Iraq in 2005, he was wounded, permanently losing his vision.
After receiving medical attention, Smiley was transferred to the Ft. Lewis, Wash., WTU, where he began his recovery and his journey to get back to active duty status.
The 2003 West Point graduate wanted to get back to doing what he loved and that was serving his country in uniform.
Smiley attributes his strength and drive during his recovery to his Family, faith and friends.
"It was my wife, my Family and friends who were in my hospital room singing songs and reading the Bible that gave me the strength during my recovery," he said. "It was all of this which allowed me to put one foot in front of the other and has allowed me to accomplish everything that I have done to get to where I am today."
The Army Times 2007 Soldier of the Year looked at what had happened to him and made the decision that he was not going down the same path as the character Gary Sinise played in the 1994 movie Forrest Gump.
"The decisions that Lt. Dan made after his injuries never came into my mind. I wanted to take care of myself--physically, mentally and spiritually," he said. "I just did not want to give up because of something that negatively happened to me."
He dreamed to return back to active duty, but he knew it was going to be a long and strenuous path. However, it was not anything Smiley was willing to give up on.
"There were some very long dark days, physically and mentally, but I just had to keep pushing on," Smiley said.
He transitioned back into to active duty, working at the U.S. Army Accessions Command at Ft. Monroe, Va. After being there for some time, Smiley's commander told him he had been selected to go to grad school.
"I thought he was kidding me. I was absolutely shocked," he explained. "Then they are going to let me go teach--that was awesome," Smiley said with a smile stretching from ear to ear.
He attended Duke University where he received his Masters of Business Administration.
While Smiley was in school, he also cultivated a friendship that had begun during the summer of 2007 with legendary Duke University basketball coach and fellow West Point graduate, Mike Krzyzewski, Class of 1969, before the men's basketball world championships and Olympics.
"When my brigade commander, who was (then a) Colonel and is now Brig. Gen. Brown, asked if I would be interested in speaking to the team, I was taken aback. 'Are you sure you know who you are talking to' Why would the national basketball team want me to talk to them''" Smiley said.
"The first time I met him, he spoke to the Olympic team in Las Vegas. We were trying to teach the team about selfless service," Krzyzewski said. "They not only heard what Scott had to say, but they truly felt what he had to say.
"When I think of Scotty, I think of ultimate service, especially selfless service," he added.
When Smiley realized why Coach K wanted him to come speak to the team, it made sense to him.
"Coach Krzyzewski went and coached here, he understands what sacrifice is all about," Smiley said.
After completing his masters, Smiley returned to where it started during the summer of 1999, although in very different capacity.
Over the past six months, Smiley has been an instructor in the Behavioral Sciences and Leadership department teaching a leadership course to third-year cadets.
"His endurable spirit and character are traits that the cadets can just relate to," Lt. Col. Eric Kail, a BS&L instructor, said. "He has overcome so much, through his attitude and desire to excel in life. Scott is a great teacher."
Even though Smiley will not be physically teaching in the classroom for the duration of his tour as WTU commander, he will be leading by example as he begins this new chapter of his life.
Smiley's former commander while at USAAC and present U.S. Army Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, shared his thoughts on this occasion.
"Scott brings a whole new dimension to Soldiering and leadership. When you are around him, you can't help but want to do your best--without complaining--because he gives his best everyday," Van Antwerp, Class of 1972, said.
About Smiley being the second Wounded Warrior to hold a command position, Van Antwerp said, "Scotty will be a great commander. He will lead from the front like he has always done. I am proud of him and proud of our Army for giving him this opportunity."
As the Army has given him this opportunity to lead, others like Krzyzewski seconded that notion.
"He may not have the eyes to see, but he sees more things than most leaders could ever see," Krzyzewski said. "His ability to translate that to his unit and the people he has (under his command), he will have the ability to touch many and they will be impacted tremendously."
Smiley now takes command of a company that he himself understands.
"I know what they are going through. I understand the dynamics of the company, how it works and areas of concern that need to be improved," Smiley said.
With only fifty percent of his command on West Point grounds, Smiley will travel from the rocky shorelines of Maine to the rolling hills of Pennsylvania to ensure his troops are being taken care of and doing what they need to do to get better.
"It is now my responsibility to inspire them and to continue to help them get the job done," Smiley said.
With his goals set and with a firm personal understanding of his present and future troops, the new company commander begins his tour, leading from the front like he always has."